A gunman’s livestream of a mass killing in New York state was taken down in a matter of minutes — but even that was not fast enough to prevent those images from becoming effectively impossible to erase from the internet.
Posting horrific clips like those is not barred by US speech laws, experts told AFP, so the decision on whether to keep them online is largely left up to individual tech companies.
But even the sites that want them taken down say they struggle to do so, since once unleashed onto the internet, the videos can be edited and shared again and again.
In the case of the Buffalo shooting that killed 10 African Americans at a grocery store on Saturday, it’s particularly chilling because writings attributed to the suspect noted he was in part inspired by another mass shooter’s livestream.
“If (companies) are going to commit to live streaming, you are committed to transmitting a certain number of rapes, murders, suicides and other types of crimes,” said Mary Anne Franks, a professor at University of Miami school of law.
“That’s just what comes with that territory,” she added.
The live feed of the killing on Amazon’s Twitch platform was pulled down within two minutes, the company said –- far quicker than the 17 minutes New Zealand mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant’s attack was streamed on Facebook in 2019.
Social media firms say they fight hard to keep these types of images off their platforms, with automated and manual efforts by workers to squelch video of the Buffalo attack and similar horrors.
But the images can be edited, titles or names changed and then re-posted on sites that are happy to have the traffic that others have decided is beyond their limit.
One tweet on Wednesday cited the Buffalo suspect’s name, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, and included a link to a video about the attack, but did not show the killing.
However, once on the site viewers were offered additional videos, including one showing over 90 seconds of the attack and which said it had nearly 1,800 views since Sunday.
Websites don’t have to allow this type of video but American law is mostly silent on prohibiting them.
“There is nothing illegal in the US about posting a video of the (Buffalo) livestream. It doesn’t really fall into a category of speech that is unprotected,” said Ari Cohn, who is free speech counsel at think tank TechFreedom.
– ‘Life and death consequences’ –
Once a crime like a mass shooting is broadcast on a major platform it can take various routes to perpetual life online, including being recorded by people watching it live.
A spokesperson for Facebook parent Meta said new versions of videos, which are created to dodge being removed, then become part of a whack-a-mole effort to hunt down the clips.
The same problem is seen at other platforms like Twitter, which has a policy of removing the accounts of mass attackers “and may also remove tweets disseminating manifestos or other content produced by perpetrators,” it says.
Meta’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen told journalists in a briefing Tuesday the firm has to tread a fine line because too broad of a filter could end up unintentionally taking down the wrong kind of content.
Live broadcasts are one of the areas where social media platforms face accusations of fanning violence and hatred, and law professor Franks said it’s not likely wise to offer that capability to the general public.
“The bigger problem here is when tech companies make these decisions for the public… that this is a tool that is useful in ways that will outweigh its disadvantages,” she added.
New York’s Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday a probe of various tech companies over the attack, including Twitch.
The general lack of up-to-date social media policies on the national level in the United States has also contributed to the problems associated with live videos online.
US states have crafted their own policies, which can reflect the heavy partisan divides along what should be allowed online.
Texas, for example, has enacted a controversial social media law that bars larger sites from “discriminating against expression,” which has been heavily criticized for being so broad that it interferes with content moderation.
“The recent tragedy (in Buffalo) underscores that this is not just about partisan point scoring,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, told a panel discussion about the law this week.
“There are life and death consequences to tying the industry’s hands to respond to bad actors on the internet,” he added.
Seaweed and 3D printers: Chile’s innovative approach to feeding kids
Some dehydrated “cochayuyo” seaweed, some instant mashed potatoes and hot water: these are the ingredients for a nutritious menu of 3D printed food that nutritional experts in Chile hope will revolutionize the food market, particularly for children.
With a 3D food printer and a modern twist on the traditional use of cochayuyo, an algae typically found in Chile, New Zealand and the South Atlantic, Roberto Lemus, a professor at the University of Chile and several students, have managed to create nutritious and edible figures that they hope kids will love to eat.
Pokemon figures, or any type of animal imaginable, are all fed into the 3D printer, together with the gelatinous mixture, and the food is “printed” out seven minutes later.
“We looking for different figures, fun figures…visual, colors, taste, flavors, smells,” Lemus told AFP.
But, he stressed, the main focus is on nutritional content. “The product has to be highly nutritious for people, but it also has to be tasty,” he said.
3D food printers are expensive, costing from $4,000 to more than $10,000, but Lemus hopes that as technology advances, their cost will come down and reach more people.
The technology is developing in the culinary field in dozens of countries, and 3D food printers are used to design sweets, pasta and other foods.
NASA already tested it in 2013 with the idea of expanding the variety of foods that astronauts dine on in space.
– Superpower algae –
Chile is making progress with cochayuyo seaweed, one of the typical ingredients of the coastal nation’s cuisine, and which is rich amino acids, minerals and iodine, according to Alonso Vasquez, a 25-year-old postgraduate student who is writing his thesis on the subject.
The young researcher takes dehydrated cochayuyo, cuts it and grinds it to create cochayuyo flour which he then mixes with instant mashed potato powder.
He then adds hot water to the mixture to create a gelatinous and slimy substance that he feeds into the printer.
“It occurred to me to use potatoes, rice flour, all of which have a lot of starch. The starch of these raw materials combined with the cochayuyo alginate is what generates stabilization within the 3D printing,” he says, waiting for the printer to finish creating a Pikachu figure of about two centimeters (just under one inch) and a taste of mashed potatoes and the sea.
The project has been underway for two years and is still in its infancy, but the idea is to apply ingredients such as edible flowers or edible dyes to the menu to make them more attractive to children.
SpaceX fires workers behind letter criticizing Musk
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has fired several employees behind a letter critical of the outspoken billionaire’s public behavior, the aerospace firm said in a message to staff confirmed by AFP on Friday.
A “small group” of employees sought their colleagues’ signatures in a show of support for the letter and participation in a survey, SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell wrote in an email late Thursday.
The mercurial billionaire regularly uses Twitter to provoke, speak directly to customers as well as fans and sometimes offend with unfiltered or crude comments.
Shotwell’s message said some workers felt “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.”
“We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism,” she added.
After conducting an investigation, the company “terminated a number of employees involved,” Shotwell said, without specifying how many.
The workers’ letter, first reported by website The Verge, criticized Musk’s behavior in public, as well as recent accusations of sexual harassment against him, as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.”
“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the letter added.
Musk, who also heads electric car maker Tesla, is in the midst of roller-coaster $44 billion bid to buy Twitter that has brought even more attention to the entrepreneur.
US stocks end rocky week lower ahead of holiday
New York equities ended a rocky week mostly higher on Friday but lower for the week amid worsening fears of recession as the US central bank takes aggressive action against inflation.
In the last session before the holiday weekend, the broad-based S&P 500, which entered a bear market earlier this week, added 0.2 percent to finish at 3,674.84, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index gained 1.4 percent to 10,798.35.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1 percent to 29,888.78, after closing below 30,000 on Thursday for the first time since January 2021.
The S&P lost 5.8 percent in the week, its worst performance since 2020, while the Dow and Nasdaq dropped 4.8 percent.
Wall Street stocks have been battered amid moves to raise interest rates to combat blistering inflation.
Investors initially welcomed the Federal Reserve’s super-sized rate hike on Wednesday, but retreated after other central banks including the Bank of England joined.
The Fed promised there are more big rate hikes to come, and recent economic data has not helped sentiment, including weak manufacturing data that followed a surprising resurgence in inflation in May.
Karl Haeling of LBBW said “markets are oversold, but probably not oversold enough to call for a bottom.”
He said the modest gains Friday likely mark “a little technical pause.”
But Kim Forrest of Bokeh Capital Partners did not read a lot into the session.
“We’ve had a pretty dramatic sell off yesterday. And it’s a holiday on Monday and people probably left, so there are fewer traders out there today,” Forrest told AFP.
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