clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Those Won't Be the Last Murder Videos You'll See on Twitter and Facebook

Two journalists were killed Wednesday, and a video of the killing made the rounds on social media.

Screengrab via Re/code

Americans are used to hearing about gun violence. What made Wednesday morning’s event different from other shootings was that it happened on live TV, as two reporters from Roanoke, Va., were broadcasting for the local CBS affiliate WDBJ7.

What was also new was that the shooter apparently filmed the event himself, and appeared to post that video on Facebook and Twitter, which then autoplayed in people’s feeds. These social networks are built for viral content and autoplay helps spur that — they’ve been pushing in this direction for some time now — but autoplay becomes a major problem when viral also happens to be vile.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to remain a onetime event. Expect other shooters to do the same thing, because these events attract copycats. Also expect that Twitter and Facebook won’t be able to do much about it.

Twitter and Facebook have policies against violent or crude content — but those policies are about taking stuff down once it is already posted to their platform. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms that depend on the protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can’t do much to prevent people from uploading stuff to the platform in the first place. The DMCA only protects them if they can argue that they’re not aware, in advance, of the things their users share with each other.

So in the best-case scenario, Facebook and Twitter are playing a reaction game. They can build software to identify and remove content once they know there’s a problem. But they can’t use that technology until the cat’s out of the bag.

This is the trade-off you make when you rely on user-generated content, which both Facebook and Twitter do almost exclusively. You reap the benefits that come with the best of humanity, but you also wear the scars that come with the worst.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that Facebook and Twitter will rethink some of their tools that make it easier than ever to share content, tools like autoplay video.

Neither company responded to a request for comment.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.