Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck
May 19, 2017
Facebook is in damage control mode following a string of gruesome videos that posted on the social media platform and went viral before administrators removed the disturbing footage.
Hundreds of violent videos are posted and shared on the site that go undetected, but some of the higher profile tragedies have prompted the social media giant to crack down and expand its monitoring system. As Facebook weathers intense scrutiny, the social media giant could face more legal fights over failing to responsibly host videos that can negatively influence viewers.
Earlier this week, a 33-year-old man in Tennessee who streamed an attempt to set himself on fire on “Facebook Live” died of his injuries. Public outrage hit fever pitch after a Cleveland shooter broadcasted a murder spree using the live streaming feature. Next, a Thai man broadcasted live video of himself killing his infant daughter on Facebook, then committed suicide. According to news reports, the video remained on the site for nearly 24 hours. Less than a week later, a copycat father in Thailand attempted to kill his 5-year-old daughter in the same manner, but let her go and ended the livestream.
The frequency and tragic nature of these online videos has forced Facebook to reflect on its responsibility. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, acknowledged the platform needs to improve its oversight of Facebook Live and shared video posts so the site doesn’t become a tool for violent acts.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook — either live or in video posted later. It’s heartbreaking, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can do better for our community,” wrote Zuckerberg. The company’s effort to “do better” includes hiring 3,000 people to its community operations team, which is tasked with quickly detecting and responding to violent videos.
The issue of Facebook’s influence as a gatekeeper of online, violent content has landed the company in legal hot water. There are several pending lawsuits filed by family members of victims killed or injured in recent terrorist attacks. Five American families are suing the site for deaths or injuries caused by ongoing violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. The lawsuits share a common theme: Facebook’s online social network provides a propaganda platform and a communication network for terrorist activity.
Facebook is not alone. The families of three victims killed in the 2015 shooting rampage in San Bernardino are suing Facebook, Google and Twitter arguing the companies give the Islamic State militants a platform to spread propaganda and provide “material support to ISIS”.
In another case, a Louisiana widow whose husband died in a terror attack while working as a contractor in Jordan is suing Twitter for “violating the Anti-Terrorism Act and purposefully, knowingly or with willful blindness” providing “material support to the preparation and carrying out of acts of international terrorism”. In court, the tech titans have argued that while they are sympathetic to victims of such heinous crimes, they are not liable for what happened.
While social media sites aim to provide a platform for people to maintain relationships, share information and broadcast mundane events in everyday life, it can also be used to indulge people’s most destructive instincts. These companies must take this responsibility seriously and take steps to improve the technology so that they can prevent violent content from proliferating on their platforms.
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