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German Synagogue Shooting: Just How is Social Media Always at The Scene of a Carnage?

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: October 10, 2019, 11:25 IST

German Synagogue Shooting: Just How is Social Media Always at The Scene of a Carnage?

Twitch did come out with an explanation in the wee hours of the morning, but that doesn’t make up for anything.

Yet another terrorist attack somewhere in the world, and yet again, a social media network proved to be the preferred channel of live streaming the carnage. Without any checks or balances. And without artificial intelligence (AI), for all its claimed intelligence and capabilities, turned out to be as clueless as the humans who are supposed to mind it. Just a few hours ago, the attack on the synagogue in the city of Halle, Germany was live streamed on Twitch. Two people were killed in the attack, according to the German policy. And the stream of the carnage went on for a good 35 minutes. Those minutes must have felt like eternity for those caught up in the terrorist attack, but for the social media boffins and the artificially intelligent tools available at their disposal, it perhaps never even registered.

Twitch did come out with an explanation in the wee hours of the morning. And Twitter was their chosen platform to express their shock and horror, as well as possible justification. “Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct, and any act of violence is taken extremely seriously. We worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act,” they said. Zero tolerance policy, sure. But 35 minutes of streaming of carnage on your platform, and no human or AI intervention to shut it down while this was happening? It is hard to find a justification for all this, at a time when we are told that artificial intelligence will be the savior of humanity and everything else? If it cannot detect scenes of carnage and shut down a video stream, sorry, it isn’t really the savior of anything.

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The argument often given in favour of AI is that a lot of gameplay footage that is streamed online also includes extensive violence. Hey, train your AI to distinguish between the streets of Halle, Germany as well as real people being shot and some wonderland in a game.

But hang on. Twitch also says, “The account owner streamed this horrific act live on Twitch for 35 minutes, during which time it was viewed by approximately five people.” Okay then. Only five people saw it Live. Great. We can all move along. Nothing to see here. But it is not all okay. “A recording of the stream, which was automatically generated based on the account’s settings, was viewed by approximately 2200 people in the 30 minutes before the video was flagged and removed from Twitch,” the company says. Going by the fairly young demographic that usually logs in on Twitch, those millennials seeing this sort of carnage can surely not be good for their mental and emotional well-being, and for the society at large. Impressionable minds they might be.

The justifications continue. “This video was not surfaced in any recommendations or directories; instead, our investigation suggests that people were coordinating and sharing the video via other online messaging services,” adds Twitch in the tweet thread. Good for you then, for allowing a stream to be broadcast for 35 minutes straight, and then point the finger at “other online messaging services”. Had you not streamed it for 35 minutes, Twitch, no one else would have had anything to share online.

Finally, Twitch says, “Once the video was removed, we shared the hash with an industry consortium to help prevent the proliferation of this content. We take this extremely seriously and are committed to working with industry peers, law enforcement, and any relevant parties to protect our community.” Good. The corrective measures cannot undo the damage or make up for the sheer incompetence, but at least, it’s a start.

While the footage may have been removed by Twitch, it will now sit in the depths of the world wide web, available to anyone who decides to look close enough.

This is not the first time that a social media network has been caught out by incompetence. In February, the terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was live streamed on Facebook, complete with the carnage and the gory details. The terrorist then was wearing a GoPro and livestreamed his shooting spree which was then shared all over the internet for the world to see. At the time, Facebook had also done nothing to stop the 17-minute livestream which ended with the death of 40 people.

It really is time social media networks are held responsible for the content they allow on their platform. These token statements after they create an inevitable mess tend to distract people enough for the time being. At least till the next such horror show.