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Experts weigh in on social media responsibility in wake of New Zealand attacks

Voices weigh in on the responsibility of social-media companies after an anti-Muslim gunman killed 49 people in New Zealand — and livestreamed the massacre on Facebook.

Profit over safety, decency

The killer depended on the “passive incompetence” of social media platforms like Facebook who “have concentrated on maximizing revenue, not protecting safety or decency,” argues Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post.

Facebook, YouTube, 4Chan, etc., argue that they aren’t media companies but platforms that can’t possibly control all the content that gets posted to them. Low-paid moderators or algorithms are the only thing policing against hate, and take hours to remove viral violence, she writes.

“But saying, in essence, ‘we can’t help it’ and ‘that’s not our job’ are not acceptable answers,” Sullivan says. The social media companies need to get far more serious about editing and removing hate and terror. “They must figure out ways to be responsible global citizens as well as profit-making machines.”

A future ‘cultural script’

“He’s the first mass killer to so prominently turn his massacre into a brutal, real-life approximation of a first-person-shooter video game,” says David French at the National Review, worrying that the New Zealand killer may have laid down a “cultural script” for future mass shootings.

French notes that beyond the livestreaming, we cannot “laugh off” the worst far-right message boards. “In fact, given the New Zealand shooter’s rather obvious effort to manipulate American public opinion, here the murders and manifesto seem to be part of the troll itself, woven together in an inseparable stew of hate and spite.”

French compares Christchurch to Columbine, and how that school shooting inspired copycats, concluding, “This was online darkness brought to life, then streamed back online. Another threshold has been crossed, and I fear there is no going back.”

The legacy of propaganda

Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner notes how extremists have honed their propaganda. “Just as ISIS overlays its videos with Islamic music designed to inspire the listener to serve the legacy of ancient glories, the Christchurch attacker played a Serbian ultra-nationalist song that salutes the 1995 butcher of Muslims at Srebrenica, Radovan Karadzic. “He wants to be able to sit in his prison cell and smile in the belief that fanatics around the world are saluting him as a hero.”

Not a priority for Big Tech

Lucinda Creighton, a senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, an international policy organization, said in an interview with CNN Business that the social-media giants are not taking this seriously.

“While Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all say that they’re cooperating and acting in the best interest of citizens to remove this content, they’re actually not ­because they’re allowing these videos to reappear all the time,” she said. “The tech companies basically don’t see this as a priority.”

And Steve Moore, a retired supervisory special agent for the FBI, had a message for anyone tempted to look for the video online. “Do you want to help terrorists? Because if you do, sharing this video is exactly how you do it.”

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