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Moral Panics: Don't Blame Facebook Because Some Guy Posted His Murder Video There

from the get-a-grip dept

As you’ve probably heard by now, on Sunday a horrific act of violence happened when a clearly disturbed individual apparently decided to (1) randomly murder an elderly man walking down the street, (2) film the entire process from searching for the guy, approaching him, talking to him and then shooting him, and (3) upload it to Facebook for people to see. The police initially reported that he streamed the murder live, but it was later clarified that, while he had streamed some other commentary live earlier in the day, the murder was filmed separately and then uploaded. Still, as happens all too often in these situations, people are immediately jumping to the moral panic stage and asking, as Wired did quickly after, what kind of responsibility Facebook should take. The title of the article says that Facebook “must now face itself” for streaming the murder — but then seems to have trouble explaining just what it needs to face (perhaps because… there isn’t anything for it to face).

And when the manhunt is over, and the grieving begins, so too will Facebook?s soul-searching.

Facebook is not the first media company to struggle with the prospect of unwittingly broadcasting violence shortly after being uploaded. When news anchor Christine Chubbuck killed herself on live TV in 1974, the station was unable to stop the event from airing, but never showed the footage again. The number of viewers who actually saw the event was minimal. Facebook has taken similar steps, pulling Stephens? video shortly after it was posted. ?This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,? the company said in a statement. ?We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.?

Uh, right. So… what else does anyone expect Facebook to do? It’s not like it can magically stop murders. Or stop people from initially uploading or streaming a murder video. Yes, it can (and does) take those down, and it can (and does) block re-uploading. But to pin this on Facebook seems… really, really weird. It’s almost as if whenever there’s a murder people want to find someone or something else to blame other than the person doing the killing.

The article kind of admits, later on, that expecting Facebook to do anything is impossible… but that just raises the question of why write a whole article asking what Facebook should do if the answer is “uh, it can’t and shouldn’t do anything.”

Facebook, of course, is a decentralized system, with millions of freelance ?reporters? with unfettered access to the public. By the time the company removed the video, thousands had already watched it, and it lives on in other corners of the internet. Meanwhile, the company has resisted calls to use its algorithms to censor videos like this before they are ever posted?not just because it does not want to be accused of violating speech rights, but also because training computers to identify real-time or recent murder is hard. Facebook has long relied on an army of humans to scour videos uploaded to its site. With videos, and especially Live videos, that job goes from hard to impossible?not even Facebook employees can watch a video before it posts.

Currently, Facebook relies on other Facebook users to flag videos that need to be taken down. But that means that someone has to watch the horror before others can be spared it. The onus falls to the viewers, not the company, to determine what is appropriate, what should be shared, and what should be flagged for removal. Traditional media companies have finely-wrought guidelines and policies to help them make these decisions, but Facebook depends on us to do it.

But even after basically admitting that this is an impossibility, the article still then says:

And now it might very well be time for the company to roll up its own sleeves and get to work.

And get to work doing what exactly? Again, Facebook isn’t going to stop a murder. And I don’t care how good the AI gets, it’s unlikely any time soon to say “hey, that video is some person killing another person, don’t stream that.” There is no sleeve rolling to do on the Facebook side of the equation and even exploring this question seems silly. Yes, senseless murders and violence lead people to go searching for answers, but sometimes there are no answers. And demanding answers from a random tool that was peripherally used connected to the senseless violence doesn’t seem helpful at all.

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Comments on “Moral Panics: Don't Blame Facebook Because Some Guy Posted His Murder Video There”

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41 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But its fun to remind people there is always someone else you can blame when bad things happen.

Why didn’t Wired take the phone maker to the woodshed? Why not the car maker? Why not the gun maker? Why not the ammo maker? Why not his parents? Why not the schools? Why not society?

Its very easy to point the finger of blame and demand someone else do something to fix it, it is a very different thing to explain what you expect them to do.

Every technology can be abused. We can go back to photos that require posing very still for 10 minutes, or admit that some ass is going to take a photo they shouldn’t have.
FB isn’t a magical entity that you can blame & expect to be taken seriously.

The PB model who took the picture of the woman in the shower… where was the demand that someone built technology that could make clippy pop up on the screen and tell her it looks like you’re about to bully someone… are you sure you want the court case?

FB is a platform, it is impossible to expect that every platform online magically read everyones mind & stop only the bad things. The world doesn’t work that way.

Government seems to think if they can spy just a little bit more they could stop all the bad things, yet bad things keep happening. It’s almost like promising you can stop it all isn’t actually possible & it would be better to educate people what to look for and report instead of spying on everything they do hoping to stumble upon something.

A man murdered someone, there is exactly 1 person to blame… the murder. Unless you want to argue that every tool & item he used bears the burden of not having done enough (which some idiots gonna show up and try to do) you can’t say FB is the one thing REALLY at fault.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Facebook is not the first media company to struggle with the prospect of unwittingly broadcasting violence shortly after being uploaded.”

There is something to be said about human agency when we are more concerned with “looking bad” than we are with actually doing bad. The attempt to hide human’s nasty side is very counter productive! This is entirely the problem with the current “not my fault” generation that could not accept responsibility for walking off a roof and dying!

This store frames the whole gun control debate as well. The same people that blame Facebook here are the same people that blame guns for violence instead of the perpetrators of violence. The only thing Facebook needs to do is take it down. WITHOUT an apology. People get get offended DESERVE OFFENSE! Thankfully, it will be easier for law enforcement to catch the asshole, and that is a plus!

Boy, have I got some “excuses” for you on everything wrong that I did/do… says “EVERYONE!!!!!”

William Braunfeld says:

Re: Re:

Not to drag this too far off topic, but there is a world of difference between Facebook and guns; this is a pretty terrible false equivalence. Many people have legitimate reasons to desire stronger gun control, and lumpin them in with the “nerd harder!” crowd is doing them, the debate, and yourself a disservice.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

I just nerd harder

I just did some amazing nerd harder and came up with the ultimate solution. Before any video is live streamed or uploaded the user must select a box that states. “This video does not include murder, and I acknowledge that if I am lying or misrepresented this video then my Facebook account will be suspended for 48 hours after first offense. Gradually increasing to a PERMANENT band after 5 misrepresented videos.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You say that as if it’s a point against Facebook but I dont see how it is.

Favebook has a clear policy against female nipples and they enforce it to the best of their (admittedly awful and inconsistent) abilities.

However, a nipple is a simple binary decision. It either exists in the video or it doesnt. At first glance, a random murder might seem similar, but we see this in our major movies all the time. People who make vine videos can have fake murders. Facebook would equally ban a fake nipple, sure. How much flack would they get if a well known director had a sneak peek of their new movie deleted and banned simply because someone died? How about an unknown director?

Even if you think they should be able to figure out pretty quick what is what, can you not see the potential for issues? Even if you dont get it, this definitely blows the point of your “it’d be gone before 5 views” argument out of the water. I dont agree with facebook’s blanket ban on female nipples, but its far easier to confirm those than it is to confirm “bad” murder over fiction. Some films these days are even being made to look like selfie cam, and you would remove the ability of a filmmaker to release promos about it if they involved violence.

If you want facebook to straight up ban all depictions of violence, fine, but at least argue for that. Don’t pretend its easy to quickly ban only what you dont like (and in this case what we all agree is awful) while still supporting the first ammendment.

FineEmBringEmInCourtandSlapEm says:

Crimes broadcast, propaganda, alt news

Where’s the responsibility, the accountability come in to play for Facebook then Mike?

If a broadcast news company were to let a rape occur live the gubernment would be there with their pen and paper in minutes handing out fines… but because it’s a website and the company doesn’t consider itself a media company they should get a pass? Not in my book!

Facebook needs to own their live broadcasting system, no one else implemented it, no one else is responsible for maintaining a level of conduct for content that streams via its tools.

Sony owned up when they found livestreams of a naughty nature using their tools and devices, don’t see those anymore but Facebook is excused? Not in my book!

Look Mike, I get the free speech position, a very tired and worn out excuse for allowing companies to hide inaction but live streaming comes with accountability – build the tools, own the tools and the content that flows through them.

The least I would expect, would be multi million dollar fines towards Facebook, heavy handed questioning IN COURT during the trial for those caught and changes in how they monitor their tools.

William Braunfeld says:

Re: Crimes broadcast, propaganda, alt news

Yet more false equivalence.
If a reporter were ON THE SCENE and letting a murder happen, that would be wildly different from someone posting a video to a website with a murder on it. And even then, I’m not sure the reporter would be committing a crime in many states; IANAL, but not every state has a Good Samaritan law.
Facebook’s responsibility ends at what is reasonable and proper to expect from a social site (note: NOT a journalistic or news site). And hey DID what was reasonable: they removes the video as soon as they were aware of it and, from what I can tell, cooperated 100% wih the police to help bring this man to justice. They did everyhig correctly; demanding more is just witch-hunting for the sake of feeling like You Did Something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Crimes broadcast, propaganda, alt news

A T.V Channel vets everything that they broadcast, even so called live broadcasts have a small delay so that someone monitoring it can cut the stream before it goes out if they deem it necessary.

Web Services allow people to publish content unvetted, and so unlike a T.V station do not know or preview anything on their site.

The freedom to publish without having to get someone else’s permission is the great benefit of the Internet, and it enables many people to talk to like minded people, learn new skills, and even find entertainment that they like. If that means that the odd horrible publication gets posted, then that is a price well worth paying..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Crimes broadcast, propaganda, alt news

You sir, are a simpleton.

"Where’s the responsibility, the accountability come in to play for [EVERY SINGLE PHYSICAL ITEM / PERSON, INSTITUTION, BUSINESS THAT HAS EVER COME IN CONTACT WITH THAT CRAZY] then Mike?" – FTFY, dumbass.

You whine poetically, yet you do not postulate any remedy as to exactly – WHAT – FB (who I absolutely abore nearly everything about btw) could have done to prevent this. You’re just another SJW whiny b!tch type that exclaims, "This is horrible. Something MUST be done, and THIS is something!!!"

Oh, and your "broadcast news company let a rape occur" example could not be more apples to oranges. In the same way a car manufacturer can’t control crazies using their vehicles to run over people, FB can’t control the immediate upload of offensive/criminal content. But the broadcast news company has EVERY opportunity to mitigate such things. Your example is the epitome of dumb.

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Crimes broadcast, propaganda, alt news

"If a broadcast news company were to let a rape occur live the gubernment would be there with their pen and paper in minutes handing out fines… but because it’s a website and the company doesn’t consider itself a media company they should get a pass? Not in my book!"

Your hypothetical is shot down by an example mentioned in this very article, the 1974 on-air suicide of news anchor Christine Chubbuck on live TV. Was the government "there with their pen and paper in minutes handing out fines"? No of course not, because nobody thought the station should be held responsible for something they could not practically prevent.

You should stop reading your book and find some new ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

I, for one, fully support the right, nay, the responsibility for all murderers, rapists and criminals of all persuasions to upload their criminal acts to facebook (or other media platform of their choice). This man, disturbed as he may be, is ahead of his time, his only error in that he did not live stream the entirety of his actions. I can only dream of the day when every criminal will see the innumerable advantages to sharing indisputable evidence of their criminal actions in an easily accessible format for the police and jury’s viewing pleasure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Right? Exactly this.

It’s like when our politicians attempt to get us all worked up about Russians (or anyone) providing the public with legitimate evidence of .gov/.com malfeasance. I’m like, I see why you don’t want them doing that sort of thing. But I for one, LOVE it.

Just like a PD detective. More evidence. More better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Even if there was an AI that could somehow spot a murder happening on video could you imagine the number of false positives it’d throw for movie clips?

False positive to you, but the MPAA have more money and they’d love to have those clips gone.

Of course, if FB did delete the video, people would be screaming "desctruction of evidence".

Anonymous Coward says:

Wired LOVES Censorship

I posted this comment to the Wired article. It was “moderated”.

————————-

Now Facebook absolutely HAS to invent The Incredible Bad Stuffinator (patent pending). It watches all incoming media, instantly detects The Bad Stuff, and ZAPS(!) it out of existence. Like it never happened. Our fragile little minds remain protected for all time.

Just imagine:

ZAP! No murders.
BAM! No ISIS.
SNAP! Bullying eradicated.
PFFT! Refugees? Solved!
ZAK! Chemical Weapons? Naah.

Yes, The Incredible Bad Stuffinator (patent pending) can do it all.

Police brutality? Gone.
Slut Shaming? Never again.
Political Agitation? Nuked.
Sexism? Checked out.
Racism? What you talkin’ bout, Willis?
Really Bad Recipes? Nope.
Actors With Bad Teeth.? Bye bye, BBC.
This Article? History.
Everything ever written by Emily Dreyfuss? Who was that, you say?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: on the bright side

Why? I certainly wouldn’t argue that the penalties should be reduced for them making it easier to be caught and prosecuted, but what reason would there be to make the penalties harsher?

Whether the evidence for a crime is a video put online, a video that’s never published, writings confessing to the act or just bits and pieces that investigators put together, the underlying crime remains the same, so what justification would there be to increase the punishment based upon the type of evidence?

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