The Latest Synagogue Shooting Is Not an Excuse To Regulate Livestreams
Violent bigots were targeting Jews long before they could broadcast the carnage.
Twitch became the latest streaming platform to be used by a mass shooter on October 9 when Stephan Balliet livestreamed himself killing two people near a synagogue in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur.
Balliet's attack was on Twitch for a total of 65 minutes, 30 of which were live footage. It garnered about 2,200 views before being taken down. Brielle Villablanca, Twitch's head of corporate communications, told Vice News that, "Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct…[and is] working with urgency to permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act."
Last week's shooting has reignited the debate about the extent to which streaming companies are responsible for content uploaded to their platforms, a conversation the company became familiar with last year after David Katz opened fire on fellow competitors during a livestreamed Madden NFL 19 tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, after losing a match.
Companies that allow users to livestream stand accused of giving shooters a place to act out their manifestos in front of an audience, gaining the attention they seek. The Halle shooting prompted Horst Seehofer, Germany's federal minister of the interior, to announce that "We can not just tolerate hatred on the internet—hatred has nothing to do with freedom of expression." But platforms have a strong incentive to respond quickly to livestreamed violence, and the imposition of heavy-handed regulations would likely do very little to stop mass shootings.
The outrage over last week's synagogue shooting mirrors what happened earlier this year when Brenton Tarrant used Facebook Live to stream his massacre of 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. After the shooting, New Zealand's privacy commissioner, John Edwards, called Facebook "morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide" who "refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm."
Facebook, as a result of public criticism, ended up enacting a new "one strike" policy that prevents people who have violated one of Facebook's policies from using Facebook Live to stream at all.
Twitch now faces a similar choice: cave to the demands of the outraged or continue to offer unfettered streaming services. Since Twitch's model involves streaming events as they take place in real time, the company would have a hard time vetting content prior to it being streamed. Some people, like Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group, insist that, "[tech companies] can solve this" but "the companies don't want to cooperate," leaving government-imposed regulation as the only solution.
Facebook's main source of revenue is not its livestreaming feature, so the company can afford to regulate itself. Twitch, on the other hand, is first and foremost a livestreaming platform which offers its users the ability to upload when they feel like it—or the whole model is rendered useless. Twitch already bans livestreaming real-life violence and acted swiftly when abuses of the platform did occur.
The blame for mass shootings begins and ends with the individual pulling the trigger. Blaming tech platforms makes as much sense as blaming violent video games.