Following the livestreaming of the horrific terrorist attack last Friday by a white supremacist, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for livestreaming to be suspended across all social media as a result of the inability of major tech companies to respond more effectively to the situation.
As reported by the Australian Financial Review, the Prime Minister said that the capacity for tech giants was "very limited" in scenarios like these. "In the past, they have suspended this sort of Facebook live-streaming, and assurances were given that when it was put back up it could avoid this," Prime Minister Morrison remarked.
He went on to suggest that livestreaming capabilities should be suspended across all social media until more stringent capabilities can be put in place to prevent the livestreaming of content like was seen on Friday. "There is very real discussions that have to be had about how these facilities and capabilities, as they exist on social media, can continue to be offered where there can’t be the assurances given at a technology level," he added. "Once these images get out there, it is very difficult to prevent them.”
While the mass murderer used Facebook to livestream the killings on Friday, the suspension of livestreaming services would impact not just Facebook, but also YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and Microsoft (through Mixer). Instagram would also be affected.
24 hours after the attacks, Facebook already removed 1.5 million videos or reuploads. Facebook currently creates an individual visual footprint of each video and livestream as it is uploaded, which allows it to act more quickly should that content be spread across the platform. But should watermarks, changes in colour or other small adjustments be made to future uploads, the original digital footprint is no longer sufficient.
Along with Facebook, a spokesperson for Twitter also provided a statement to media highlighting the platform's efforts in removing the aforementioned content. "We have dedicated government and law enforcement reporting channels for illegal content. We have a specially trained team that reviews each report against the Twitter Rules and our Terms of Service, and determines whether or not it is in violation," the spokesperson said.
Kotaku Australia has contacted Twitch and Microsoft for comment, but with their media teams predominately based in the United States no response was available at the time of publication. We'll update this story when and if those comments become available.
The broader problem, however, is one of design. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and other social media platforms by design don't screen speech or video before its hosted. Some of those platforms do scan the content immediately post-upload, like YouTube's Content ID database which creates fingerprints of audio and visual content from reference files. But these systems aren't setup to block content before its shared.
"We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think society should want us to," Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying back in 2017.