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Buffalo Shooting: Are Social Media Platforms Like Twitter Working Fast Enough to Remove Extremist Videos?

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Social platforms have learned to remove violent videos of extremist shootings more quickly over the past few years. It’s just not clear they’re moving quickly enough.

Police say that when a white gunman killed 10 people and wounded three others — most of them Black — in a “racially motivated violent extremist” shooting in Buffalo Saturday, he livestreamed the attack to the gaming platform Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. It didn’t stay there long; a Twitch spokesperson said it removed the video in less than two minutes.

That’s considerably faster than the 17 minutes Facebook needed to take down a similar video streamed by a self-described white supremacist who killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques in 2019. But versions of the Buffalo shooting video still quickly spread to other platforms, and they haven’t always disappeared quickly.

In April, Twitter enacted a new policy on “perpetrators of violent attacks” to remove accounts maintained by “individual perpetrators of terrorist, violent extremist, or mass violent attacks,” along with tweets and other material produced by perpetrators of such attacks. On Sunday, though, clips of the video were still circulating on the platform.

One clip purporting to display a first-person view of the gunman moving through a supermarket firing at people was posted to Twitter at 8:12am (8:42pm IST) Pacific time, and was still viewable more than four hours later.

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Twitter said Sunday it was working to remove material related to the shooting that violates its rules. But the company added that when people share media to condemn it or provide context, sharing videos and other material from the shooter may not be a rules violation. In these cases, Twitter said it covers images or videos with a “sensitive material” cover that users have to click through in order to view them.

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But later Sunday, Twitter changed course on how it was treating material related to the shooting. In a subsequent emailed statement, the company said it is “removing videos and media related to the incident” and “may remove” tweets disseminating the shooter’s writings. Earlier, the company’s statement said it “may” remove material produced by perpetrators.

“We believe the hateful and discriminatory views promoted in content produced by perpetrators are harmful for society and that their dissemination should be limited in order to prevent perpetrators from publicizing their message,” Twitter said in a statement.

At a news conference following the attack, New York Gov, Kathy Hochul said social media companies must be more vigilant in monitoring what happens on their platforms and found it inexcusable the livestream wasn’t taken down “within a second.”

“The CEOs of those companies need to be held accountable and assure all of us that they’re taking every step humanly possible to be able to monitor this information,” Hochul said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “How these depraved ideas are fermenting on social media – it’s spreading like a virus now.”

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Hochul said she holds companies responsible for “fomenting” racist views. “People are sharing these ideas. They’re sharing videos of other attacks. And they’re all copycat. They all want to be the next great white hope that’s going to inspire the next attack,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that investigators were also looking into a diatribe the gunman posted online, which purports to outline the attacker’s racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic beliefs, including a desire to drive all people not of European descent from the US.

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Police said the suspected gunman, identified as Payton Gendron, of Conklin, New York, shot 11 Black and two white victims in a Buffalo supermarket, echoing a deadly attack in a German synagogue that was also streamed on Twitch in October 2019..

Twitch is popular among video game players and has played a key role in boosting the spread of esports. A company spokesperson said the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” against violence. So far, the company hasn’t revealed details around the user page or the livestream, including how many people were watching it. The spokesperson said the company has taken the account offline and is monitoring any others who might rebroadcast the video.

In Europe, a senior European Union official with oversight of digital affairs for the 27-nation bloc said Sunday that the livestreaming on Twitch showed the need for administrators to continue working with online platforms so that any future broadcasts of killings can be quickly shut down.

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But Margrethe Vestager, who is an executive vice-president of the European Commission, also said it would be a stiff challenge to stamp out such broadcasts completely.

“It’s really difficult to make sure that it’s completely waterproof, to make sure that this will never happen and that people will be closed down the second they would start a thing like that. Because there’s a lot of livestreaming which, of course, is 100 percent legitimate,” she said an interview with The Associated Press.

“The platforms have done a lot to get to the root of this. They are not there yet,” she added. “But they keep working and we will keep working.”

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Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said Sunday that it quickly designated the shooting as a “terrorist attack” on Saturday, which triggered an internal process that identifies the suspect’s account, as well as copies of his writings and any copy of or link to video of his attack.

The company said it has removed the video of the shooting from the platform and added that instances of it still being shared are through links to streaming sites. These links, in turn, are blocked and “blackholed” by the company, meaning they can’t be uploaded again.

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But new links created as people upload copies to outside sites would have to be individually blocked in a game of cat and mouse — unless the company choses to block an entire streaming site from its platform, which is unlikely.

Jared Holt, a resident fellow at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said live-content moderation continues to be a big challenge for companies. He noted Twitch’s response time was good and the company was smart to watch their platform for potential re-uploads.

“It would behoove other video hosting platforms to also be aware of this content to the extent that it may have been recorded – may also be republished on their own products,” Holt said.


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Elon Musk Hints at Plans to Increase Character Limit for Tweets in Response to Twitter User

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Twitter could expand its character limit from 280, according to a tweet by new owner Elon Musk. The world’s richest man and Twitter’s new CEO responded to a user on the microblogging platform requesting the higher character limit, stating that it was part of the company’s plan. Twitter is also working on adding encrypted direct messages (DMs), and payment services, according a set of slides recently shared by Musk on Twitter. However, it is currently unclear whether the increased character limit will be the same as the longform tweet feature teased by the company’s CEO.

On Monday, Musk responded to a Twitter user asking him to expand the 280-character limit for on tweets on Twitter to 1,000 characters. Musk responded, stating :It’s on the todo list.”

Twitter, which is referred to as a “microblogging service”, originally had a 140-character limit for tweets, which was expanded to 280 characters in 2017. At the time, the company’s blog stated that “many people Tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel, but soon after behaviour normalised…We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often.”

The platform is one of the few services that limits users’ posts to a few hundred characters. Rival Facebook allow users to upload posts with thousands of characters.

Musk has shown interest in the idea of increasing the character limit on a number of occasions since his takeover of the platform, as per a report by Mashable.

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On November 27, a Twitter user suggested to Musk to increase the platform’s word limit from 280 to 420. “Good idea” Musk wrote in response.

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Prior to that, another user had suggested “get rid of character limits,” to which Musk responded: “Absolutely”.

Musk recently announced another major change for the platform with its multi-coloured verification system. A new three-coloured verification check mark system would replace the previous ‘Twitter Blue’ service which had to be pulled off within days of its release due to rising number of accounts impersonating well-known brands and personalities while carrying the ‘verified’ check. The new Twitter Blue verification service will tentatively be relaunched on December 2, according to Musk.


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WhatsApp ‘Message Yourself’ Feature Rolling Out on Android and iOS: Report

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WhatsApp is rolling out its Message Yourself feature to users globally. The app will now let you send a text to yourself, to store messages and files. Many users around the globe rely on WhatsApp chats to jot down quick notes or reminders, or crucial information. Until now, users would use a workaround to message themselves, or use a second WhatsApp account registered to another phone number, or rely on a chat window of a defunct WhatsApp account to store messages. WhatsApp will now let you do it easily via one of its new in-built features called Message Yourself.

According to a report by TechCrunch, the Meta owned messaging app has begun to roll out the ability to message yourself. The ‘Message Yourself’ feature will be similar to sending a text to another user, except that the message will remain in a separate chat on your phone.

Once the feature is rolled out, users will see a separate chat with their name followed by “(You)”. You will be able to jot down notes, shopping lists, keep reminders, store bookmarks. You will also be able to forward messages from other users, just like you can for other chats.

You can tap on the new chat button from the WhatsApp home screen and select your name. Once you tap on it, you will be able to send texts to yourself. If you are in another app, you can also use the sharing menu to send files, images, and other media to yourself.

WhatsApp says that the Message Yourself feature is now rolling out and should reach most Android and iOS users in the coming weeks, as per the report. Users can download the latest version of the app on Android and iOS to use the Message Yourself feature.

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Recently, the messaging app also introduced a new feature that will let iOS and Android users create polls in personal and group chats to get opinions or answers from their friends and contacts. Users’ responses to a poll’s question are protected via end-to-end encryption, according to the company.

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Facebook Fined EUR 265 Million by Irish Data Privacy Regulator After Investigation Into Data Scraping

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Ireland’s data privacy regulator imposed an EUR 265 million (roughly Rs. 2,250 crore) fine on social media giant Facebook on Monday, bringing the total it has fined parent group Meta to almost EUR 1 billion (roughly Rs. 2,250 crore). The penalty resulted from an investigation, started last year, into the discovery of a collated set of personal data that had been scraped from Facebook between May 2018 and September 2019, and made available online. Facebook was also ordered to make a range of corrective measures.

Meta said it had cooperated fully with the investigation by Ireland’s Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) and made changes to its systems during the time in question, including removing the ability to scrape its features in this way using phone numbers.

Monday’s fine is the fourth the DPC has levied against one of Meta’s companies. It is Meta’s lead privacy regulator within the European Union, and has 13 more inquiries into the social media group outstanding.

In September the watchdog hit its Instagram subsidiary with a record fine of EUR 405 million (roughly Rs. 3,435 crore), which Meta plans to appeal. Meta added in its statement on Monday that it was reviewing the decision related to the latest fine.

The DPC regulates Apple, Google, Twitter, Tiktok and other technology giants due to the location of their EU headquarters in Ireland. It currently has 40 inquiries open into such firms, including the 13 involving Meta.

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The regulator has the power to impose fines of up to 4 percent of a company’s global revenue under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR) “One Stop Shop” regime introduced in 2018.

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The DPC said mitigating factors in Monday’s decision – which had been approved by all other relevant EU regulators – included the actions Facebook had taken.

“We’ll keep going until the behaviour does change,” Ireland’s Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) Helen Dixon told Irish national broadcaster RTE on Monday.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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