Tech Companies Fail To Stop Buffalo Attack Video From Proliferating Online

May 18, 2022 CEP Staff

Inability To Stop Reuploads Calls Into Question Big Tech’s Promises To Do Better After 2019 Christchurch Attack

On Saturday, May 14, a gunman targeting African Americans opened fired at a Buffalo, New York grocery store, killing 10 and wounding three others, while livestreaming his attack on the Amazon-owned platform Twitch. Twitch cut off the video within two minutes of the start of the attack. Despite taking down the stream, the video was captured and reshared across multiple tech platforms.

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) on Monday found that violent white supremacists shared the video on Telegram and AnonFiles. The video was also spread on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, BitChute, and Streamable. The video has accumulated more than three million views on these sites in a short time. Meta-owned Facebook allowed some links to remain online for up to nine hours, and Twitter still had video clips on its platform over 24 hours after the attack.

Facebook and Twitter, along with the industry consortium the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), have stated that they are working to remove the Buffalo video using a shared hashing database.

The attack—and Big Tech’s inability to stop the spread of footage online—draws a haunting parallel to the March 15, 2019, Christchurch terrorist attack where the perpetrator livestreamed part of his assault. Additionally, multiple aspects of the Buffalo attack are directly inspired by the Christchurch attack, as directly stated in the accused gunman’s online manifesto and his use of similar tactics and iconography. The presumed gunman also explicitly stated that he hoped to inspire future violence.

“After the Christchurch attack, tech companies needed to answer two questions: have they learned any lessons about their failure there, and what new processes will they put in place to prevent a similar incident? While the Buffalo livestream was removed from Twitch within two minutes of the start of violence, they were widely unsuccessful in stopping its proliferation and reuploads online. Already, it’s been watched and shared by millions of people,” said CEP Senior Advisor and University of California, Berkeley professor Dr. Hany Farid. “This was a problem we saw in 2019, and it is a problem we are seeing once again despite years of promises from the tech industry.”

Following the Christchurch terrorist attack, the GIFCT and major tech companies, including Meta (then Facebook), Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon, and YouTube, signed the Christchurch Call to Action, a nine-point action plan aimed at fighting terrorism and violent extremism online. The nine action points included a pledge to invest in new technologies to improve terrorist content detection and removal, a commitment to implementing livestreaming checks to reduce risks of disseminating terrorist content, and, among other things, a promise to improve sharing technological developments between large and small companies. The fact that reuploads of the Buffalo attack video continued to occur, including on platforms owned by signatories to the Christchurch Call to Action, calls into question the tech industry’s level of commitment and technological ability to stop the ongoing spread of terrorist content.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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