There's a worrying connection between Social Media, the rise in hate crime, and the battle for free speech. The mass killing of Black people in Buffalo by a young white male is yet another example of the toxic mix of freely available guns and the wide spread dissemination of conspiracy theories.
Social media has not done enough to stop hate.
Back Story: On Saturday, an 18-year old radicalised white man walked into a grocery store wearing body armour and carrying a gun.
The thing is this: he live-streamed the shooting on Twitch. Which is going to make his "not guilty" plea somewhat challenging to defend!
To their credit, it only took 2 minutes before the live stream was taken down by Twitch. However, in so doing, Twitch may have violated Texas’ new social media laws (I’ll come to that in a minute).
However, the video was out and it quickly appeared on the streaming site Streamable. The New York Times reported that the video was seen 3 million times before Streamable took it down. At the same time, links to the video of the live stream were being shared on both Facebook and Twitter for as long as 9 hours, even though the links violated Facebook’s rules.
A second video that claimed to show the shooter firing in the grocery store went up on Twitter. It took 4 hours for this video to be taken down.
Meanwhile on TikTok, users were posting videos of the killer going into the store and others with instructions on how to find the video online.
It’s deja vue all over again!
In 2019, a radicalised shooter went into a New Zealand mosque and killed 51 people. He live-streamed the killing on Facebook where it was seen for 17 mins before the platform took the live stream down.
A racist conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement” was linked to this killing, which social media firms pledged at the time to eliminate in the wake of that shooting.
Well, it’s turned up again.
Just days prior to this latest shooting, the killer, Payton Gendron, posted a 180 page manifesto to Google Docs. He credited the 4chan community for his white supremacy radicalisation and repeatedly referenced the “great replacement” conspiracy.
Here's the thing: In a social media world that has been hugely tolerant to the ideals of free speech over the last decade, the nonsense and toxic rhetoric of conspiracy theories has prospered. From the comical belief that the earth is flat to the inciteful view that Trump won the 2020 election.
Social media’s defence of one’s right to say whatever the hell one pleases has replaced critical thinking with blind faith. On top of that, as growing numbers of young men become increasingly isolated from society together with a prevalence of easy access to guns in America, it is hardly surprising that they end up like this one.
Side Note: I’ve always found it strange that you can’t legally drink alcohol or have sex before the age of 21, but can buy a semi-automatic weapon and carry it freely around town in America. In this case, the young man had already been reported to Police after he wrote a murder-suicide piece for school. But the authorities decided not to “red flag” him, which would have prevented he’s ability to buy a firearm.
It’s about to get a lot harder in Texas
In stark contrast to the EU’s DSA (I wrote about last week), a new anti-censorship law will give power to users to sue social media companies (over a certain size) for every possible content moderation they make.
The law states:
A social media platform may not censor a user, a user’s expression, or a user’s ability to receive the expression of another person based on:
(1) the viewpoint of the user or another person;
(2) the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression; or
(3) a user’s geographic location in this state or any part of this state.
(b) This section applies regardless of whether the viewpoint is expressed on a social media platform or through any other medium.
Am I right to be concerned by the prospect of Twitter as a private company run by a maverick billionaire? (It’s a movie we’ve seen before. It’s called Facebook. )
Are you concerned? Where do you stand on this?
Let us know what you think about this subject by putting your comments, thoughts or feedback in the comment section below. ☟
- Hate on Social Media. A look at Hate groups and their presence on Twitter. Source: SafeHome.org
- Fanning the Flames of Hate: Social Media and Hate Crime. The research shows that anti-refugee sentiment on Facebook predicts crimes against refugees. They found that, consistent with a role for “echo chambers”, right-wing social media posts contain narrower and more loaded content than news reports. Their conclusion is that social media can act as a propagation mechanism for violent crimes by enabling the spread of extreme viewpoints. Source: Oxford University Press
- Anti-Muslin Hate. Social media companies are failing to act on Anti-Muslim Hate 89% of the time. Source: Center for Countering Digital Hate
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