This is a tragedy that doesn’t deserve a snappy lede, but it is one that needs to be highlighted because tech companies should be held to account.
Earlier today there was a horrendous mass mosque shooting in New Zealand that killed 49 people — and because this is 2019, social media was used by the apparent murderers to plan, announce, broadcast and virally resonate what they did.
Some of that — such as the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the perpetrator — have been deleted. Yet nearly 12 hours later, you can still find multiple copies of the shooting videos on YouTube and Twitter, with some being used to promote other things.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy. Shocking, violent and graphic content has no place on our platforms, and is removed as soon as we become aware of it,” said a spokesperson in an email to TechCrunch. “As with any major tragedy, we will work cooperatively with the authorities.”
The turnaround time of “as soon as we become aware” isn’t quite as fast as you might think. Randomly browsing on the most basic of searches in YouTube at around 9am Eastern, we found a number of copies of the shooting incident — the same ones posted as live streams on Facebook — and reported all of them.
As of writing, three of the first four we clicked on are still up. One of them is even used to promote other videos — gaming-related as it happens.
To be clear, the YouTube links we clicked on are re-uploads of the primary source video from the event, not any allegedly legitimate “news” coverage that’s been uploaded in response to it, much of it coming from chancers who are essentially just hoping to make a little click-money from people browsing for more information. Those don’t only include no-name video posters. The likes of the Daily Mail sickeningly used clips of the video in the name of news.
On Twitter, it was just as easy to find embedded video clips, by way of the New Zealand hashtag plus a keyword or two. These included clips of the shooting, plus several taken by motorists of the police chase for the perpetrators, which present their own casual eeriness and off-color comments from the recorders.
Twitter also issued a statement that mirrored YouTube’s.
“We are deeply saddened by the shootings in Christchurch today,” a spokesperson said in an email to us. “Twitter has rigorous processes and a dedicated team in place for managing exigent and emergency situations such as this. We also cooperate with law enforcement to facilitate their investigations as required.”
Like YouTube, Twitter is also monitoring the platform and has both human and computer-based screenings to field reports. But the situation highlights how — despite the stated commitments from companies that work in social media to track malicious or harmful content on their platforms, and despite all of the tracking algorithms and teams of humans that they have built to help — social media services continue to fail the public when it comes to keeping their platforms from getting exploited for horrendous ends.
Meanwhile, the lead comment on the Reddit thread about the news states, “New Zealand Police has requested the Footage not be shared on social media. Please do not post the Videos. If you see the Videos, bring it to the moderators attention.” After browsing the first couple pages of comments, this approach appears to be working.
A Reddit spokesperson sent us the following statement: “We are actively monitoring the situation in Christchurch, New Zealand. Any content containing links to the video stream are being removed in accordance with our site-wide policy.”
It’s also worth noting that after a shooter apparently encouraged viewers of his live stream to “subscribe to PewDiePie,” the YouTube star (who has attracted controversy for anti-Semitic messages in the past) tweeted, “I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person. My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected by this tragedy.”