“If I were Twitter or Facebook today, I’d start thinking about how to monitor this more closely,” says Christopher Finlay, an associate professor of communication at Loyola Marymount University. “Right now, safeguards are not in place.”
One solution, Finlay suggests, is to make auto-play a feature that users have to opt into, instead of the current opt-out system. But he adds that there’s no real solution for stopping sensitive content from spreading online. “There’s no way to get the genie back in the bottle,” he says.
Commentary: There is a much broader conversation to be had around this subject than the above article touches on. The two below (and probably a host of others) do a good job of discussing journalistic ethics as we now each have to think of ourselves as editors to our own media outlets.
For the most part the other day was spent reporting or flagging the Shooter POV footage as violent, which kept cropping up on every site visited. It was like a grotesque game of whack-a-mole. Self-Reportage is not the way or even a feasible answer. The videos were removed somewhat quickly, but the damage in this case was already done. When a crisis of this magnitude unfolds on social media platforms, the companies have an obligation and a duty to respond quickly. Most if not all of them allow young people as old as 13 to join their sites and it would seem that aside from a moral imperative there remains an insidious fact that copy-cats were inspired by this tactic and there will be more attempts in months and years to come.
With that considered, and as an above-average user of social media, the part that stuck out to me in this next article was how people who edit the videos (often graphic) for media outlets are at particular risk for the “slow drip” effect of such violent imagery viewed on a loop. Something that I can attest to. Now that we are editors of our own media streams, whether it be the constant exposure to black deaths, or live-breaking on-air shooting akin to the World Trade Center collapsing on loop it is corrosive.
The problem is that Twitter, or Facebook, or any other platform for mostly unfiltered reality, should not necessarily provide such “seamless” and “friction-free” access to that reality. If the ambit of any social network is that people are better at managing what they want to see than old-school news editors are, then you actually have to let people choose what they want to see. And you have to understand, too, that when working on a website to which anyone can post, the technical choice to auto-play every video is a profoundly editorial one. Though individual users can deactivate auto-play (here are instructions), the feature supposes that most people will and should want to see every video that passes through their feeds.
I feel for the Twitter and Facebook employees who ordered, designed, and developed these features: Surely they didn’t anticipate that their workaday emails and meetings and server-architecture re-programmings would lead to thousands and thousands of people seeing a double murder.
These images are powerful and will have a lasting effect. One that can easily be avoided by disabling auto-roll as default, while there is always going to be a place to see such violence online and people who want to see it that is a small sliver of users of social media. Given the way breaking news happens and with this particular incident utilizing social media to further broadcast the horror, these social media sites should bear in mind this stratagem when it comes to further terrorism, mass shootings, etc…
Not a single one of these articles & critiques of the situations broaches the fact that you have teenagers or younger on social media. That they could and may willfully expose them, users less likely to personalize their settings, more likely to watch random auto-roll videos. Yet that shouldn’t be a rallying cry: “What about the children…” but just one of many of the concerns coming from thoughtful people who are talking about the darker side of social media and viral videos.
For if adults with lots of social media experience can’t avoid them, then we can’t expect the youth to. Auto-roll is simply there so that they can inflate their “views” and make it easier to sell advertising, and charge more. Can’t think of one reason ever put forth that wasn’t about marketing. No one likes it or cares for it, but alas as long as these parent companies are making money, then our trauma will take a back seat to their corporate concerns.
Through no fault of my own, I watched both videos. The nature of Twitter and Facebook’s autoplay feature, designed to capture every precious millisecond of your attention as you while away time between tasks, meant that what was essentially a snuff film was automatically served to me between baby photos and BuzzFeed quizzes and all the other digital flotsam that clogs our feeds each day. After a few minutes, I walked to the men’s restroom and vomited.