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Social media sites work to limit spread of Buffalo shooting footage

An icon for the Twitch app displayed on a smartphone screen.

Twitch, the Amazon-owned livestreaming site that caters primarily to gamers, said it removed streamed footage of a shooting in Buffalo, New York, this weekend “less than two minutes after the violence started.”

An 18-year-old white man used an assault rifle to fire on crowds of shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket Saturday, authorities said. The attack—which killed 10 and injured three, including 11 Black victims—is being investigated as a hate crime after the shooter allegedly posted a lengthy manifesto citing 4chan posts regarding the racist “great replacement theory” as his motivation.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Saturday that the shooter “had a camera and was livestreaming what he was doing” during the attack. The Twitch channel that had hosted that video has now been taken down, with its content marked as “currently unavailable due to a violation of Twitch’s community guidelines or terms of service.”

“We are devastated to hear about the shooting in Buffalo, New York,” Twitch said in a statement provided to the press. “Our hearts go out to the community impacted by this tragedy. Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents. The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”

The New York Times reported that a Discord account with a name matching that of the now-suspended Twitch account made posts on a private server that included apparent planning for the attack. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families, and we will do everything we can to assist law enforcement in the investigation,” Discord told the Times.

Discord tracks thousands of reports of extremist or violent content in its regular transparency reports and noted last June that such reports “continued to make up comparably small fractions of our overall volume” of moderation issues.

Footage whack-a-mole

Despite the quick Twitch takedown, copies of the livestreamed footage continue to proliferate on other social media sites. A Meta spokesperson told Engadget that the footage has been added to a database that will be used to identify copies and remove them automatically before they are visible on Facebook.

In April, Twitter updated its content moderation rules regarding “perpetrators of terrorist, violent extremist, or mass violent attacks,” making it clear that manifestos and footage related to such attacks were not welcome on the platform. But that policy includes a possible exception for tweets where “there is a clear and explicit intent to provide additional context and counterspeech” to the violent content.

“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 Sunday.

In 2019, a livestreamed shooting in Germany was reportedly available on Twitch for 30 minutes, where it was viewed thousands of times before being taken down. And in 2018, a shooting at a Jacksonville Madden NFL tournament was inadvertently livestreamed on Twitch as part of that tournament broadcast.

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