Control of the media after the mosque attacks in New Zealand

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christchurch Linwood mosque
outside Linwood Mosque (second scene)

I have to mention yesterday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed a 50th person, who was found at the first of the two mosques, al Noor. Three dozen survivors, ranging from two years old to their 60s, are still in hospitals, 12 in intensive care and two in critical condition. Many needed multiple surgeries.
Also, The Sydney Morning Herald reported police said they think Brenton Tarrant, 28, was the lone gunman. NBC News reported three other people were arrested and considered suspects, but are not anymore. A woman was released, one man faces unrelated firearms charges, and an 18-year-old man’s arrest was “tangentially related,” according to police, but not believed to have been involved with the shooting.
Similar to the attack in late October in Pittsburgh – in which I expressed my shock on the day, and was finally able to look at the bigger picture after a week – the victims were just praying together on their holy day of the week. (Sure, Muslim vs. Jewish, mosques vs. synagogue, and Friday vs. Saturday, but that doesn’t seem so important after what happened.)
Brenton TarrantToday, the suspected gunman in the two mosque attacks, the Australian-born Tarrant, made his first appearance in court. According to CBS News, with his hands in cuffs, he “flashed what is believed to be a white nationalist hand gesture” as the judge charged him with one count of murder and indicated there will be more charges filed when Tarrant goes in front of the Christchurch high court on April 5. The motives for the shooting rampage are reported to be white nationalism and an anti-immigrant ideology.
More than 200 miles south, authorities searched a home believed to be Tarrant’s family’s, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised new gun control legislation since all five of Tarrant’s weapons were purchased legally. Those weapons were rifles covered in white-supremacist graffiti. Online gun owners’ groups referred to “panic buying” ahead of an expected ban on semi-automatic guns.
Brenton Tarrant rifles
Tarrant is also suspected of publishing a 74-page white supremacist manifesto on Twitter that was sent to a bulk email address that included Prime Minister Ardern’s own office, minutes before the attacks started.
The manifesto referenced “white genocide” driven by “mass immigration,” and called President Donald Trump, here in the U.S., a “symbol of renewed white identity.”
The attack was also broadcast live with a bodycam on Facebook. (I had planned to write about that company weeks ago, and will have a lot more to say in another post.)
According to Morning Brew, “Facebook quickly shut down the account associated with the livestream, but the 17-minute video showing what appeared to be the shooting still got widespread play” on Instagram, Reddit, YouTube and other platforms.
social media logos
The Huffington Post published an article called “Facebook Monitoring Failure Helped Spread Christchurch Hate Around the World” which went off on the “company’s touted policing system … despite recent raves by executives that the company has become a crack content monitor.”
(I’ll take a moment to go off on Facebook pretty much shutting down most of Wednesday while posting to users it was just making upgrades. Sounds like a lie from the people who were supposed to be policing, or their bosses who had to explain themselves on rival Twitter. And policing what, since Facebook’s founder, chairman and chief executive officer – Mark Zuckerberg – wouldn’t ban Holocaust deniers and defended some of their motives on that very Facebook?)
It took the Keystone Kops over there in Menlo Park and wherever else Facebook keeps them 17 minutes until New Zealand police informed the company a gunman was posting live video. Like Facebook, two days earlier, New Zealand police sent their message on Twitter.

But it was too late, and many social misfits in the public had already captured the indecent video.
According to that Huffington Post article, other social media platforms “reportedly took hours to remove the video from their platforms” – as if people who feel the need to see the gruesome don’t have it saved on their computers.
According to CNBC, Facebook said it removed the original video following the killings. Also, Twitter removed the original video and suspended the account that posted it.
And, YouTube (owned by Google) did the same but,

“Several people tweeted that they have been able to find repostings of videos of the attack on Youtube more than 12 hours after it happened. … A straightforward search on YouTube will generally yield legitimate reports from news organizations, but graphic videos could still be easily found if a user filtered results by upload date.”

The senior tech editor at NBC News Digital showed what he found.

CNBC also noted the problem is not new.

“Facebook has previously experienced abuse of its livestream function and has taken steps to detect problematic streams in real time. In 2017, the company added additional measures to detect live videos where people express thoughts of suicide, including using artificial intelligence (known as AI –Lenny) to streamline reporting, and adding live chat with crisis support organizations. These policies followed a series of suicides that were reportedly livestreamed on Facebook’s platform.”

This is what The Washington Post’s reporter whose Twitter bio says covers “AI and the algorithms changing your life” tweeted out.

And a cybersecurity reporter for The New York Times brought up this point:

So what can help? Maybe quicker identification.
A long Thursday article about Facebook in Fortune magazine had chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer asking the reporter looking at two side-by-side pictures on his laptop this simple question: “Which one of these is broccoli and which one is marijuana?”
The reporter took some time before answering correctly, saying it “isn’t obvious. Both pictures look convincingly cannabis-like—dense, leafy-green buds that are coated with miniature, hair-like growths, or perhaps mold.”
The Fortune reporter said Schroepfer was demonstrating how Facebook “is using technology, specifically artificial intelligence,” because it’s “more accurate than humans,” and, “faster by far than a human.”
He said about her, “It took you more than a second,” but the company’s technology “can do this in hundredths of milliseconds, billions of times a day.”
Also according to the expert, Facebook was 93.77 percent sure about the pot, but only 88.39 percent sure about the broccoli.
Sounds like grades of an A and a B, respectively, but The Huffington Post reporter – one day later but after the massacre – called into question whether that’s good enough “with billions of posts” and how it’s harder “to spot a problem in a livestream video or a first-time upload.”
(I can only imagine whether Zuckerberg’s team knew what I did with Facebook Live when I worked at the local Fox TV station. It was usually suburb updates on severe weather by Sue Serio, Kathy Orr and Scott Williams – and I’ve never used Facebook Live before or since – but was anybody other than the audience of Facebook users, who “liked” the station’s page and agreed to receive notifications, alerted to a new live video and listening in to what was being said? Doubtful in those cases and probably every single other one. Sounds like social media needs to get better if it wants to police its users.)
And it wasn’t just social media at fault.
You’d think the traditional media would cooperate with police for two reasons: It’s often the right thing, which could possibly keep someone from blaming the company for people’s deaths; and they know they’ll want police to give them or confirm information immediately for competitive purposes.
(The massacre happened overnight in the U.S. so we’re hearing reports from nearby Australia, rather than understaffed American newsrooms which promoted themselves with slogans like claiming to be “Your 24-Hour News Source” more than a quarter-century ago, until it became too expensive.)
But The Guardian reported,

“Several Australian media outlets broadcast some of the footage. …
“Sky News Australia repeatedly broadcast footage of the shooter at the mosque and Ten Daily embedded the footage on its website and social media posts. Neither showed the actual shootings or any victims.
“The Ten Daily video remained online for several hours but was eventually taken down, along with all the stills from the video. Sky continued to show excerpts from the video.”

See who’s in charge at Sky News Australia. I’ll give you a guess: The same people but different company than I mentioned earlier on this page. This is who owns the company, and this is who controls the parent company.
The Guardian article continued,

“A Sky spokeswoman said: ‘Sky News in line with other broadcasters ran heavily edited footage that did not show the shootings or the victims.’ …
“ (same owner –Lenny) published stills from the shooter’s video and included some footage from the gunman in his car and entering the mosque in an online video.”

It also mentioned another TV station and a newspaper website.
Australia’s opposition leader, Bill Shorten, may have put the battle against showing the new viral video best:

“They have said, and I agree, do not allow this evil into our lives. Do not share the footage. Do not watch the footage. This is not part of normal life.”

The Guardian article ended,

“The apparent manifesto of the shooter, which has been removed from his social media accounts, was shared by several media outlets, including (Australia’s, not the one in the U.S. –Lenny) ABC News, which read out an excerpt.”

Journalists know breaking news isn’t planned, but there could be live events, such as the verdict in a trial and predicted bad weather moving through. How news people and their organizations cover an unexpected story reflects on their ability, trust, reputation, and perhaps ratings.
Social media companies know killers posting videos of their crimes isn’t typical. The question for them is whether they’re working hard enough and fast enough to get rid of video like that, and keep it from reappearing.
I suggest social media companies show they’re socially conscious and working in the public interest by not suspending but deleting the accounts of anyone who shares the killer’s bodycam video or the like on their pages. Sure, the people or companies can start new pages with different email addresses and/or phone numbers, but they’ll never get back what they lost on that platform. So showing the video on social media probably wouldn’t be worth it for anyone alive and not in prison.
The spread of the video could inspire copycats, according to CNN’s legal enforcement analyst Steve Moore, a retired supervisory special agent for the FBI. Who wants that in their neighborhood?
According to Moore,

“What I would tell the public is this: Do you want to help terrorists? Because if you do, sharing this video is exactly how you do it.” …
“Do not share the video, or you are part of this.”

(And you may want to avoid buying tech company stock in the near future, but that’s a different issue.)
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