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Online hate under scrutiny after Buffalo shooter streamed massacre on Twitch | Buffalo shooting


The Buffalo shooting has focused attention on the role of Twitch, the gaming platform used by the gunman to broadcast a live stream of the massacre, amid renewed calls for tighter regulation of social media platforms.

Twitch allows creators, many with millions of followers, to stream themselves playing video games, chatting with fans, or simply going about their daily lives.

The Buffalo suspect, a self-confessed white supremacist who allegedly shot 11 Black and two white victims, killing 10 people, in what authorities said was a racially motivated hate crime, used a Twitch channel to livestream the assault from a helmet camera.

Amazon-owned Twitch said it took down the video within two minutes of the violence starting, but by that time it was already being shared elsewhere including on Facebook and Twitter. In a statement issued to the New York Times, Angela Hession, Twitch’s vice-president of trust and safety, said the site’s reaction was a “very strong response time considering the challenges of live content moderation, and shows good progress”.

The fragmentary nature of modern social media platforms has added to the moderation difficulties. As news of the shooting went viral on TikTok, the platform’s moderators battled to take down uploads of the footage – but were much less successful at taking down videos that directed viewers to Twitter accounts where they could watch the shooting in full.

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The role of livestreaming is only part of the question. The shooter broadcast his intentions in advance – including by preparing a to-do list on the chat platform Discord – which meant some of his followers were ready to download the video as it was being broadcast.

Initial repeat uploads appeared to come from supporters; however, within hours, the bulk of shares came from users seeking to satisfy the curiosity of others online – a similar pattern to that seen following the Christchurch shooting in 2019, which was initially livestreamed on Facebook before being distributed across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook itself. That live stream, however, ran for 17 minutes before Facebook’s moderators brought it down – a response time almost 10 times slower than that of Twitch.

Buffalo shooting: vigil held after ‘racially motivated’ massacre leaves 10 dead – video report

The New York governor, Kathy Hochul, told the ABC TV network on Sunday that social media companies needed to be held accountable for violent racist views circulating online. The Buffalo attacker posted a 180-page manifesto online before the shootings that focused on the racist “replacement theory”, a conspiracy theory that white people are being systematically replaced by non-white people.

Hochul said tech firms “need to be held accountable and assure all of us that they’re taking every step humanly possible to be able to monitor this information”. She added: “How these depraved ideas are fermenting on social media – it’s spreading like a virus now.”

The online safety bill and the Digital Services Act, pieces of legislation being introduced in the UK and EU respectively, are targeting criminal activity online but in the US progress is slower. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 absolves platforms of responsibility for content posted by others, although President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have supported overhauling it, albeit for different reasons. But the first amendment to the US constitution makes it unlikely that platforms will ever face significant liability for hosting racist content.