In the News / Social Media

Facebook killer shines light on failings of social media giants


A live-streamed video of a man shooting an old man, seemingly at random, scores millions of views on Facebook before being removed. Who is to blame for the horror filling our timelines? I joined Nick Ferrari on the LBC Breakfast show to discuss who is to blame and what can be done.

The video of Steve Stephens shooting at point blank range 74 year old Robert Godwin Sr was online for almost three hours before being removed by Facebook, by which time it had been viewed, copied and shared by other sites millions of times.

Perhaps this is a problem with live-streaming. Perhaps it’s a social media problem more generally. Or perhaps social media is just there to host the hate and atrocious actions of the few but to a much wider audience that it would otherwise have. Perhaps the mainstream media is also to blame, as news of the story and the video was reported by global news channels and newspapers.

It’s easy to point the finger at the social media platforms, who have ample revenues and moral, if not legal, responsibilities to their billions of users. But is it now time for governments and legislatures to step up and introduce a new line of regulation, separate to that of broadcasters and publishers, but considered, fair and something more than what is in place already (which in most cases is nothing).

Is there also a responsibility on us, as users.  We are the financiers of social media channels, albeit indirectly. We are the ones that the advertisers wish to reach out to. It is us who are watching these videos, sharing hate speech and revelling in the misfortune of others. Or are we?

In the wake of the Westminster attacks last month, there were a significant number of tweets, Facebook posts and general calls from and for social media users to resist the temptation to post videos and images during the attacks and in the immediate aftermath. Did images get posted? Well, yes. But the fact that users took it upon themselves to berate those who did it and to warn off those who might provided some reassurance that the internet had not (yet) been overtaken by trolls and people desperate to have a moment of celebrity, no matter how dark the circumstances.

Social media has always, to an extent, been self-regulating. It’s had to be. Without specific legislation in this area and only the codes of conduct issued by each platform and agreed to (often without even a skim read) when a user signs up are there to guide us. Is it still right, over then years on, for users to be solely responsible for output of others as well as themselves?

Facebook did indeed remove the video, after a couple of hours and however many alerts, notifications and complaints. Had no complaints been made, it may still be there now. Whilst YouTube and Facebook have the ability to remove copyright material in an instant, why can’t its automated systems and AI bots recognise hate speech, inappropriate violence and other unwelcome content and stop it too?

I’m sure that will be possible in time, if it isn’t already. For now, though, so long as there is an audience for such horrific videos and without proper regulation of social media platforms, it will remain the responsibility of users to act, to complain and to hold the platforms to account.

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