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‘Transmitting violence’: Livestream video’s dark side

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FBI agents look at bullet impacts in the Buffalo, New York grocery store where a gunman livestreamed himself shooting 13 people — 10 of whom died – Copyright AFP/File Sam PANTHAKY

Glenn Chapman with Joshua Melvin in Washington

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.

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

Pinterest is taking a unique approach to Black History Month, with a new ‘Find Your Routes’ Black Travel Hub initiative, which aims to highlight places that have strong connections to Black history, while also showcasing Black-owned businesses.

As explained by Pinterest:

“Find Your Routes” is inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book aka “The Green Book”. The Green Book was a guidebook for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era that provided a list of accessible hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations and other establishments throughout the country that served Black Americans patrons.”

The Black Travel Hub, which you can find here, will present a range of travel options, along with their history, with creators from the US, Colombia, Jamaica, Brazil and more, all taking part in presenting their city.

It could be a good way to provide education alongside inspiration in the app, while also helping people to connect, and support highlighted communities.

Pinterest will also be showcasing Black-owned businesses on Pinterest TV, while internally, it’s also hosting a company-wide event ‘to help employees gain knowledge about the history, present, and future of Black travel through the lens of Black Pinployees’.

As noted, it could be a good way to both spark important conversations, and inspire new travel journeys, which include an extra level of cultural understanding and education, along with a leisure break.

It’s an interesting take on the celebration either way, and it’ll be worth noting what sort of reaction the initiative gets, and whether it inspires more travel as a result.

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

Snap shares plunged after missing analyst expectations in Q4, while forecasting a year-over-year revenue decline.

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

Snapchat added 12 million more active users in Q4 2022, and Snapchat+ subscriptions continue to rise, but company revenue missed market estimates, in another mixed result for the private social app.

First off, on users – as noted, Snap added 12 million more actives, taking it to 375 million DAU.

As you can see, North American user growth is still flat, while European users saw a slight uptick. But it’s the ‘Rest of the World’, specifically India, which is driving Snap growth.

Which is helping to boost the overall usage numbers, and expand opportunity. But on the revenue side, it’s not pushing things forward in a significant way.

Snap Q4 2022

As you can see in this chart, Snapchat’s revenue has increased, but a key problem here is that it’s still reliant on the US and Canada for the majority of that spend, with other markets trailing well behind on the revenue front.

Snap Q4 2022

In this chart, you can see that Snap’s Revenue Per User has actually declined year-on-year – so while it is growing, it’s not bringing in revenue at equivalent scale, and it’s even going backwards in some respects.

Which is why its stagnant growth in North America is a problem – though Snap has also seen take-up of its Snapchat+ subscription service increase.

“In Q4, our subscription service Snapchat+ reached over 2.0 million paying subscribers. Snapchat+ offers exclusive, experimental, and pre-release features, and in Q4 we launched new features such as Custom Story Expiration and Custom Notification Sounds, providing subscribers with over 12 exclusive features.”

That’s a handy additional revenue stream, but as with all social media subscription services (including Twitter Blue), take-up is generally limited, and at 2 million subscribers, that’s still only 0.5% of Snapchat’s active user base that’s been willing to pay extra for these add-on elements.

Snap has also faced challenges in rebuilding its ad business, in the wake of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which has impacted data collection, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says they still have some way to go on this yet:

“We continue to face significant headwinds as we look to accelerate revenue growth, and we are making progress driving improved return on investment for advertisers and innovating to deepen the engagement of our community.”

Snap has seen improvement in its commerce integrations, which includes digital items for Bitmoji avatars which Snap is eventually looking to translate into real-world item sales as well. Snap also says that it’s facilitated over than 161 million product trials by over 35 million Snapchatters for Walmart, leveraging its Catalog-Powered Shopping Lenses at-scale.

Snapchat AR shopping

Those point to bigger opportunities, but right now, amid the broader economic downturn, and restrictions on data collection and targeting, Snapchat is in a tough spot, and will be for some time yet.

Essentially, then, you’re banking on Snap’s future, and its advanced tools that could help it better align with expanded AR and VR use. And Snap is seemingly in a good position on this front – though again, the impacts of the last year, which also forced Snap into lay-offs, will also have some effect.

Really, then, the results here are relative to your perspective.

For advertisers, more Snap users means more potential reach – but most of Snap’s growth is coming from outside the US. More advanced AR activations could become a bigger deal in future, but it depends on how you’re looking to connect, and product fit.

Investors won’t be overly happy with the numbers, but there are positive signs on the horizon. It’s just that the horizon, in this respect, remains well in the distance at this stage.

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