May 16, 2022 - Technology

Live streaming motivated the Buffalo shooter

Photo of people leaving messages in chalk on sidewalk and street as a memorial to Buffalo shooting victims
People leave messages at a makeshift memorial near a Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 15. Photo: Usman Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Twitch says it managed to take down the live stream of the weekend mass shooting in Buffalo within two minutes after it started. However, videos of the shooting have been viewed millions of times, in part because it remains easy to re-upload copies of videos to multiple platforms.

Why it matters: Live-streaming mass shooting events can give assailants assurance that their crimes will live online for many years.

  • Indeed, the man arrested in conjunction with the shooting said knowing he could broadcast his attack was part of his impetus.
  • "Live streaming this attack gives me some motivation in the way that I know that some people will be cheering for me," the shooter said during his racist video rant during the attack, per the Washington Post and NY Times.

Catch up quick: Authorities are investigating the mass shooting by an 18-year-old white man as a hate crime and a case of "racially motivated violent extremism."

  • The attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on Saturday evening killed 10 and wounded three. Eleven of the 13 people were Black, per police.

Details: The shooter wore a camera during the attack and posted the footage in real time to Twitch, the live-streaming platform owned by Amazon that often features live videos of video gaming.

  • The only video uploaded to Twitch by the shooter, the company believes, was the live footage of the attack. Twitch confirmed to Axios that it removed the stream less than two minutes after the violence started.

The big picture: Tech platforms said they were quick to identify the video as a violation of their policies and removed it shortly thereafter, but copies of the video still circulated online for hours after the live stream ended.

  • For example, Axios watched part of the video that was posted to Facebook on Sunday at 11:30am ET before it was taken down a few hours later.

What they're saying: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul criticized the various social media platforms for both inspiring the shooter and allowing the videos of the attack to circulate. "This spreads like a virus," Hochul said, per the New York Times.

  • In a statement, Facebook parent Meta said it designated the event as a violating terrorist attack Saturday, which triggered an internal process to remove any copies or links to videos of the incident, the shooter's writings about it, or other content that praises, supports or represents him.
  • Reddit told Axios in a statement, "In line with our policies, we are removing any content sharing the video in question."
  • Twitch said in a statement that the user who streamed the shooting has been indefinitely suspended and that it is "monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content."

Be smart: The Department of Homeland Security has cited a pattern amongst some mass shooters of watching and studying videos online of other mass shooting events, like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

  • The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 has been cited for years by various mass shooters as an inspiration, in large part because the coverage was carried so widely on national television.

Between the lines: Tech firms have long struggled to identify and block videos of mass shootings and other gruesome events that are live streamed or uploaded to their platforms as the violence is taking place.

  • Gruesome content uploaded to platforms for on demand replay after the fact is easier for companies to weed out using artificial intelligence, either at the point of upload or before it's widely noticed — the automated systems can match the videos to databases of previously flagged content.
  • Many of these systems were developed or improved in the wake of the live-streamed mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

What's next: Once gruesome content has been identified, tech firms often work with third party groups, like the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, to share examples of content via a shared database that helps other companies detect and prevent future uploads of the same material.

Go deeper: Remembering the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting

Go deeper