“Transmitting violence”: the dark side of live video


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San Francisco (AFP) – A gunman’s live stream of a massacre in New York state was deleted in minutes – but even that wasn’t fast enough to prevent these footage from effectively becoming undeletable from the internet .

Posting gruesome clips like these aren’t prohibited by US speech laws, experts told AFP, so the decision to keep them online is largely left to individual tech companies.

But even sites that want to take them down say they find it difficult to do so, because once released on the internet, the videos can be edited and shared again and again.

In the case of the Buffalo shooting that killed 10 African Americans at a grocery store on Saturday, it’s particularly chilling because writings attributed to the suspect said he was partly inspired by another shooter’s live stream. massive.

“If (companies) commit to live streaming, you commit to transmitting a number of rapes, murders, suicides and other types of crimes,” said Mary Anne Franks, professor at the faculty of law from the University of Miami.

“That’s exactly what comes with this territory,” she added.

The live stream of the murder on Amazon’s Twitch platform was down in two minutes, the company said – far faster than the 17 minutes of the attack on New Zealand mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant broadcast on Facebook in 2019.

Social media companies say they are battling to keep these types of images off their platforms, with automated and manual efforts by workers to drown out video of the Buffalo attack and similar horrors.

But images can be edited, titles or names changed, and then reposted to sites that are happy to have traffic that others have deemed above their limit.

A tweet on Wednesday named Buffalo suspect Payton Gendron, 18, and included a link to a video of the attack, but did not show the murder.

However, once on the site, viewers were offered additional videos, including one showing more than 90 seconds of the attack and which was said to have been viewed nearly 1,800 times since Sunday.

Websites are not required to allow this type of video, but US law is generally silent on their prohibition.

“There’s nothing illegal in the United States to post a video of the (Buffalo) livestream. It doesn’t really fall into a category of unprotected speech,” said Ari Cohn, who is an adviser on freedom of expression at the TechFreedom think tank.

“Life and Death Consequences”

Once a crime like a mass shooting is broadcast on a major platform, it can take a variety of routes to perpetual life online, including being recorded by people watching it live.

A spokesperson for Facebook parent Meta said new versions of videos, which are created to avoid being deleted, are then part of a mole effort to track down the clips.

The same issue is seen on other platforms like Twitter, which has a policy of deleting the accounts of mass attackers “and may also delete tweets spreading manifestos or other content produced by the perpetrators,” it says. he.

Meta’s vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, told reporters in a Tuesday briefing that the company needed to be careful because a filter that’s too broad could end up unintentionally removing the wrong kind of content.

Live broadcasts are one of the areas where social media platforms have been accused of stoking violence and hatred, and law professor Franks said it’s probably not a good idea to offer this capability to the General public.

“The biggest issue here is when tech companies make these decisions for the public…that it’s a useful tool in a way that will outweigh its drawbacks,” he said. -she adds.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday announced an investigation into various tech companies over the attack, including Twitch.

The general lack of up-to-date social media policies at the national level in the United States has also contributed to the problems associated with online live videos.

US states have developed their own policies, which may reflect strong partisan divisions over what should be allowed online.

Texas, for example, has enacted a controversial social media law that prohibits large sites from “discriminating against expression,” which has been heavily criticized for being so broad that it interferes with content moderation.

“The recent tragedy (in Buffalo) underscores that it’s not just about scoring partisan points,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said during a panel discussion on the law this week. .

“There are life and death consequences to tying the industry’s hands to respond to bad actors on the internet,” he added.


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