The stakes for addressing the spread of such content quickly are significant. “This fits into a model that we’ve seen over and over and over again,” said Ben Decker, CEO of digital investigations consultancy Memetica and an expert on online radicalization and extremism. “At this point we know that the consumption of these videos creates copycat mass shootings.”
Meta on Saturday designated the event as a “terrorist attack,” which triggered the company’s internal teams to identify and remove the account of the suspect, as well as to begin removing copies of the video and document and links to them on other sites, according to a company spokesperson. The company added the video and document to an internal database that helps automatically detect and remove copies if they are reuploaded. Meta has also banned content that praises or supports the attacker, the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Streamable told CNN the company was “working diligently” to remove copies of the video “expeditiously.” The spokesperson did not respond when asked how one video had reached millions of views before it was removed.
Copies of the document allegedly written by the shooter were uploaded to Google Drive and other, smaller online storage sites and shared over the weekend via links to those platforms. Google did not respond to requests for comment about the use of Drive to spread the document.
Challenges for addressing extremist content
In some cases, the big platforms appeared to struggle with common moderation pitfalls, such as removing English-language uploads of the video faster than those in other languages, according to Tim Squirrell, communications head at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank dedicated to addressing extremism.
But the mainstream Big Tech platforms also must grapple with the fact that not all internet platforms want to take action against such content.
“Now, technically, that failed. It was on Twitch. It then started getting posted around in the initial 24 hours,” Decker said, adding that the platforms have more work to do in effectively coordinating to remove harmful content during crisis situations. Still, the work done by the major platforms since Christchurch meant that their response to Saturday’s attack was faster and more robust than the reaction three years ago.
“Many of the threads on 4chan’s message board were just people demanding the stream over and over again, and once they got a seven-minute version, just reposting it over and over again” to bigger platforms, Squirrell said. As with other content on the internet, videos like the one of Saturday’s shooting are also often quickly manipulated by online extremist communities and incorporated into memes and other content that can be harder for mainstream platforms to identify and remove.
Like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, platforms like 4chan and Telegram rely on user generated content, and are legally protected (at least in the United States) by a law called Section 230 from liability over much of what users post. But whereas the mainstream Big Tech platforms are incentivized by advertisers, social pressures and users to address harmful content, the smaller, more fringe platforms are not motivated by a desire to protect ad revenue or attract a broad base of users. In some cases, they desire to be online homes for speech that would be moderated elsewhere.
“The consequence of that is that you can never complete the game of whack-a-mole,” Squirrell said. “There’s always going to be somewhere, someone circulating a Google Drive link or a Samsung cloud link or something else that allows people to access this … Once it’s out in the ether, it’s impossible to take everything down.”