Much of the world was stunned last week with the news of two mosque shootings in New Zealand that took the lives of 50 people. What made it even more disturbing was that the shooter filmed a Facebook Live video throughout his violence and also published his manifesto on Twitter and an anonymous message board.
The violence of the situation is something that is definitely unspeakable, but what we are focusing on in this opinion piece is the responsibility of social media with regards to it being the mode to publish the violence. There were many people that watched the video and shared it and did nothing to alert Facebook of its existence. What can social media do to prevent the spread of violence?
Andrew says the first thing would be “to catch incidents of violent social contagion a little earlier.” He’s heard of social media being used to spread false information that led to mob violence in India and Mexico, and he’s sure it has happened elsewhere. He realizes we may not like the measures they take to suppress the “violence-inducing fake news,”
With regards to spreading violent ideas and broadcasting violent actions, he thinks social media has been doing okay, but he realizes it’s hard to react in real time. He also thinks “the regular media does just as much to spread information about violent actions as any social media service, and the places where radicalized and/or violent individuals” spend their time don’t tend to be the bigger platforms. He figures all communication media will be used for both good and bad, and short of “aggressive censorship and filtering,” he doesn’t see a broad fix.
He’s hoping that with advances in AI, we’ll be able to stay on top of this a little better, but he also realizes things will still continue to slip past the attempts to prevent it. He’s also for censoring terrorists on social media, though, if we can identify them with high certainty as bad actors.
Sayak believes Facebook and WhatsApp are the worst. He’s stopped using WhatsApp except to make free phone calls when traveling. “If someone crosses the line, as in inciting violence and threatening other people, there should be consequences just as in real life.” He believes social media should immediately delete all fake accounts and that it’s time to make profile pictures mandatory with some type of check to be sure they are authentic pictures. If people don’t like it, they can delete their accounts. He believes this will address the problem of “hit and run trolls.”
Alex thinks that “while social media may be the transmission victor, it’s unclear that they can or should do something about it.” If we kick white supremacists off Facebook, they’ll just go to anonymous platforms. He asks if the true test of the commitment to free speech and not the toleration of speech is what we find horrible.
Outside of the philosophy behind it, if there’s something we can do to stop the spread of hate, he believes we should do it. Yet whether we should block IP addresses, send the police, or offer counseling to perpetrators, he’s not sure. He wonders if social media all announced that hateful speech would get you banned for life, if that would reduce the amount of hateful speech. He takes the idea of banning and repressing speech very seriously and would only want proven tactics before such things were used and we start eliminating certain opinions.
Fabio thinks social media could show the suffering people go through because of the violence. For example, it could show the “family members of the deceased surfing the loss.” He believes “a heart will think twice before doing anything.”
I’m not sure what the answer is, but what I look at is that the perpetrators may not be after the violence so much as the fame. They use social media and live video platforms because they want the notoriety. And every time something gets published, it encourages more to enact their own “social violence.”
In that manner, I believe the New Zealand prime minister is right on target by refusing to mention the suspected shooter’s name. She doesn’t want to give him that notoriety that he so desperately craved. And perhaps that’s the answer. If we can’t stop the free speech aspect of this, maybe we can stop the notoriety after the fact. The less the news media publishes the names of the aggressors, the less we’ll see this violence I believe. And I say that as part of that news media, as a writer of current events.
What are your thoughts on this difficult topic? Are there changes social media could or should make? Is it something that can’t be stopped? Are there changes the rest of society or the news media can make? What can social media do to prevent the spread of violence? Join our conversation in the comments below.