The spread of the Christchurch mosque shootings video on social media, and repeated attempts to remove copies of the video, exposed one of the technology industry’s ugliest problems.
Microsoft President Brad Smith wants tech companies to work together to create a toolkit that will allow them to quickly, and effectively, stop the distribution of violent, extremist content. In a blog post, he called on the technology industry to create a “major event” protocol, where representatives from the tech giants, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft, would work together from a command center during an incident, and put aside competition for the sake of serving the greater public good.
“Across the tech sector, we need to do more. Especially for those of us who operate social networks or digital communications tools or platforms that were used to amplify the violence, it’s clear that we need to learn from and take new action based on what happened in Christchurch,” Smith wrote.
Facebook said fewer than 200 people watched the killer’s livestream on Facebook Live, but the social network removed 1.5 million videos showing footage of the shooting in the 24 hours after the massacre. In the aftermath, YouTube also struggled to stop the proliferation of the videos. Reddit also banned a r/watchpeopledie subreddit, after footage of the shooting kept appearing on the message board.
Smith said the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism is an example of how collaboration can benefit the greater public. The group, which includes YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft, came together more than two years ago with the mission to stop the spread of terrorist content on their platforms. The companies have collaborated on a shared database of content, and have developed photo, video, and text-based machine learning tools that help stop the spread of extremist content across their platforms.
“These technologies were used more than a million times in 24 hours to stop the distribution of the video from Christchurch,” Smith said.
However, he acknowledged that technology alone will not be enough to solve the problem.
“We need to consider and discuss additional controls or other measures that human beings working at tech companies should apply when it comes to the posting of this type of violent material. There are legal responsibilities that need to be discussed as well,” he said. “It’s a complicated topic with important sensitivities in some parts of the tech sector. But it’s an issue whose importance can no longer be avoided.
Fifty people were killed in the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, March 15.