There’s a lot not to like about Facebook these days. But when one of its core features, livestreaming video, is being used as a tool for terror, simple outrage just isn’t enough.
The latest evidence that live video needs to change came Friday when, before entering a mosque and committing one of the deadliest mass murders in New Zealand history, the accused gunman began a stream on Facebook Live.
As he prepared to carry out his dastardly act, he quipped, “Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.” Then his followers watched for nearly six minutes as he shot people dead, streaming video that otherwise looked like it came from Call of Duty, Battlefield or any other realistic war simulation game.
It was a shocking reminder that the magical devices tech companies create to give us access to nearly all human knowledge and easy ways to take photos and connect with friends, have a darker, more grisly side.
Technology has always had its pluses and minuses that we take in stride because on the whole, it’s worth it. But now’s the time to consider whether livestreaming in particular may finally be the first Silicon Valley invention that needs radical reform, or to just go away.
“The New Zealand shooter was able to livestream a 17-minute video of his murderous rampage that continues to spread like wildfire online. This is flatly unacceptable,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, in a statement. “Tech companies must take all steps possible to prevent something like this from happening again.”
Of course, livestreaming won’t go away. It’s already ingrained in internet culture as a driving force behind online news services, quiz shows and popular video games like Fortnite.
At a minimum, though, the approach to livestreaming needs to change. Facebook and others like YouTube, Twitter’s Periscope and Amazon’s Twitch, need to treat this technology as the potential tool for mass terror that it is. Otherwise, this whole situation is only going to get worse.
None of the companies mentioned immediately responded to requests for comment.
A dark start
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Live in April 2016, he heralded it as the next big thing in social media. “This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it’s going to create new opportunities for people to come together,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Within a year, the service had been used to broadcast at least 50 acts of violence including murders and suicides, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal. One was of a special needs man being tortured during a 30-minute livestream in Chicago. Another was of an alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, watched live by dozens of people. And there was Philando Castile, a 32-year old school cafeteria worker killed by a police officer during a traffic stop for a faulty taillight.
Facebook vowed in each case to do better, and it has failed every time.
Once again, Facebook didn’t to stop the video of the horrific shootings in New Zealand that left 49 people dead and at least 20 wounded, which now are being uploaded to YouTube, Twitter and other websites.