Bloomberg Businessweek

When Lives Are on the Line

After the New Zealand massacre, will governments begin to regulate how social media oversees content?

Evil travels freely on the internet. It flickers before us in plain sight. Yet, despite the livestreamed horror of March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand, enacting social media reforms will take massive efforts in regulation, requiring the cooperation of the tech giants, governments, and consumers.

In a perfect world, YouTube’s and Facebook’s algorithms would race through a video as soon as someone tries to upload it. If the machines recognize troubling content or a video that’s already been banned, the images would never reach the public.

So what happened in New Zealand? Alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant had an audience of only about 200 people during the 17 minutes he broadcast his attack on the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. Yet, though Facebook Inc. took the video off Tarrant’s page 12 minutes after the livestream ended, hundreds of thousands of clones of the footage were produced and circulated on the internet. The video was reposted on Twitter, where it auto-played on the timelines of unsuspecting users; it appeared in Reddit’s infamous “Watch People Die” forum, which is exactly what its name says it is; and, of course, it showed up on YouTube, the world’s leading video-hosting site.

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