Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch said it removed a livestream of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York over the weekend within two minutes of it going live. But that response time was not enough to stop recordings of the footage from spreading to other online platforms, like Facebook, where links to the heinous act remained accessible for hours. This once again raises questions about how much social media companies are really invested in moderating harmful content.
The May 14 mass shooting, seemingly part of a white supremacist attack that killed 10 people, wounded three others, and is being investigated as a hate crime, was livestreamed via the account “jimboboiii” to roughly 20 other users, based on screenshots of the now deleted Twitch channel. The channel’s only previous broadcast was reportedly a “test” to make sure the streaming setup worked. While the gunman seemingly discussed his plans on Discord and possibly other social media platforms months ahead of time, it’s unclear who the viewing accounts were, nor how they knew to tune into the unknown Twitch channel right when it went live.
“Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents,” a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku. “The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.” Twitch did not immediately respond to a request for comment about who was viewing the channel.
Whoever those accounts belonged to, one or more apparently managed to download footage from the livestream and share it on other platforms, where it remained accessible long after the tragedy had taken place. One clip in particular, uploaded to Streamable, garnered over 3 million views and was still viewable up to a full day after the shooting took place, according to a screenshot by Archive.org.
While the video has since been removed for violating Streamable’s terms of service, it managed to circulate on Facebook for up to 9 hours, The New York Times reports. Some users who flagged the video to Facebook for harmful content told the Times they received a message back that it didn’t violate the platform’s terms of service. A Facebook spokesman confirmed to the The New York Times that the video was in fact in violation, but couldn’t explain why notifications to the contrary had gone out to some users. Axios, meanwhile, reports it was able to view a video of the shootings on Facebook as late as 11:30 p.m. ET last night. Facebook and Streamable did not immediately respond to requests by Kotaku for comment.
According to The New York Times, footage of the mass shooting also circulated on Twitter, and in some cases was directly uploaded to the platform. “A company spokeswoman initially said the site might remove some instances of the video or add a sensitive content warning, then later said Twitter would remove all videos related to the attack after The Times asked for clarification,” the publication wrote.
Based on a manifesto believed to belong to the man police identified as the gunman, the Buffalo mass shooting was partly inspired by the 2019 Christchurch mass shooting in New Zealand, among other recent atrocities. The Christchurch killings were infamously broadcast for an extended period on Facebook Live. In his purported manifesto, the Buffalo gunman wrote that he was partly motivated by livestreaming. “I know that some people will be cheering for me.”
Social media platforms have a long history of inconsistent and bungled moderation, but livestreamed footage has to originate somewhere. In Twitch’s case, it is extremely easy to set up a new account and begin broadcasting immediately. All you need is an email address. “Go live in five,” the mobile app advertises. It takes less than a minute to create a new account and begin livestreaming from your phone. There are obvious benefits to this sort of democratization of content sharing. It also makes places like Twitch and Facebook Live uniquely susceptible to amplifying despicable acts.
In the wake of this latest attack, politicians like New York’s Governor, Kathy Hochul, are already calling for more scrutiny of tech platforms when it comes to hate speech and other harmful content. “I want them to sit in the room, look me in the eye and tell me, too, have you done everything humanly possible to make sure that you’re monitoring this content the second it hits your platform?” Hochul said in a press conference Sunday. “If you’re not, then I’m going to hold you responsible. So, prove to me that there is nothing else that can be done.”