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Facebook Responding To Another Broadcasted Killing


Many people will find this next story disturbing. It's the story of the latest murder shown on Facebook. The world's biggest social network has offered condolences but has not said much about just how it addressed the violent content from Thailand. We are going to talk about some troubling details, which is going to take us about four minutes or so. NPR's Aarti Shahani is on the line. Hi, Aarti.


INSKEEP: I don't even like to say that this involves the killing of a child. What happened?

SHAHANI: Well, it does. A man killed his infant daughter. He livestreamed it on Facebook Live, then he turned off the camera and killed himself. This happened in Thailand. According to police in Thailand, two videos of the incident were up for nearly 24 hours before Facebook finally took it down. Thai police contacted Facebook Tuesday afternoon local time, and the videos were pulled at about 5 p.m.

Now, Facebook would not tell NPR when exactly the company became aware of the videos. Was it from Thai police, or was it earlier perhaps, from a user who reported it as it was happening in livestream? We don't know. And these are, by the way, the kinds of details Facebook did decide to provide about another recent killing posted on the site of a shooter in Cleveland who killed an elderly man. But in this Thailand case, the company isn't ready to share these basic details.

INSKEEP: So many questions to pursue here. Let me start with this one. As you alluded to, there have been multiple killings now in which people chose to show the murder on Facebook. Does any evidence suggest that Facebook is actually driving the killings - that the chance to be live is influencing people's behavior?

SHAHANI: Well, I know from conversations with people close to the company that that is absolutely a concern internally. I mean, the idea that you can broadcast yourself and have all this power in the media is a motivation for certain violent acts. And people within Facebook are aware of that. It's something that they are talking about, yeah.

INSKEEP: OK. So what is Facebook's legal responsibility when someone commits a murder on Facebook?

SHAHANI: Well, you know, it's interesting. This isn't really a legal so much as an ethical question. And the reason I say that is that, at least under U.S. law, a law passed by Congress in 1996, Facebook is not liable for just about any user-posted content. Right?

And the rationale is interesting, too, by the way. It comes down to a difference between how the internet and television worked in the '90s. You know, back then on TV, you'd flip the channel and get hit with something you might not want to see, so TV stations had to take responsibility for their content choices. But on the internet back then, you typically didn't get content you didn't want to see. You were very intentional about digging for things, digging for pages online. So you couldn't get unexpected exposure. Now today, in 2017, the internet's very different. Algorithms feed you infinite amounts of stuff you might not intentionally want, but the '90s regulatory norms remain intact.

INSKEEP: And of course, the '90s is when a lot of the current rules were made. Now, Mark Zuckerberg, the head of state - of Facebook has said we want to do all we can to prevent this sort of activity on Facebook. But what does Facebook really want to do?

SHAHANI: (Laughter) That's a great question. You know, he very publicly onstage last week said, we will do all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening. But he didn't give a single detail. A spokesperson said this is an appalling incident. Now an interesting fact is that when Facebook rolled out livestream video, Facebook Live, a year ago, a source familiar with the company tells NPR - when Live was being developed, people inside Facebook absolutely had conversations about the fact that yes, of course Facebook users would commit murder on Facebook Live. People were already posting murder videos on YouTube and Twitter. So why wouldn't they use Live to do that? That part wasn't surprising to them.

INSKEEP: And so now the question is, does Facebook try harder with live monitors or artificial intelligence to get on top of these kinds of incidents? NPR's Aarti Shahani covering this disturbing story - Aarti, thanks very much.

SHAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.