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Opinion: Tech giants must be held responsible for publishing images of murder and child abuse

Google is pioneering self-driving cars and bringing the internet to remote parts of Africa via a network of giant balloons, yet somehow they cannot deal with snuff films or child abuse images, writes Diarmuid Pepper.

Diarmuid Pepper

BRENTON TARRANT’S SHOOTING spree in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was shocking for many reasons.

Just one of the many horrific aspects of this mass murder was the fact that he live-streamed it. 

Tarrant knew that this video would be widely shared, it was easy for him to ensure that it would because he was a member of an infamous internet site called 8chan (or infinitychan) which hosted a forum for people to share “politically incorrect” views. 

So before the shooting spree, Tarrant posted a link of his live-stream to 8chan, knowing that the community of extremists would spread the video far and wide. The members of the forum applauded his actions with Nazi memes.

Tarrant was able to count on this internet subculture to disseminate his racist murder campaign – but he was also able to rely on Google. 

Tech giants shirk responsibility

For too long, the internet giant has been shirking its responsibilities.

Alphabet is Google’s parent company and, as of last year, it was valued at $740 billion. 

Google is pioneering self-driving cars and bringing the internet to remote parts of Sub-Saharan Africa via a network of giant balloons.

It has one of the most sophisticated algorithms imaginable. 

Yet somehow, the global tech giant cannot deal with snuff films or child abuse images. 

Google also owns YouTube and that site was awash with videos of Tarrant’s attack.

Buzzfeed journalist Ryan Mac documented Google and Facebook’s response to the video. He found that it took YouTube more than two hours to take down a video he had reported after it was gaining a lot of traction online. 

Facebook also declined to comment on how long it took them to take down Tarrant’s live-stream. 

Reddit describes itself as “the front page of the internet”, but its only action in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting spree has been to ban internet groups called ‘r/watchpeopledie’ and ‘r/gore’, where users routinely uploaded videos and images showing real people being tortured and killed. 

Of course, Reddit has a user policy that prohibits sharing such images and videos but for years they have failed to close these popular forums because they drive traffic to the site, which in turn drives profits. 

Alison Parker

Given the scale of the Christchurch mass murders it is likely that the victim’s families will be treated somewhat better than Alison Parker’s family has been treated by Google.

Alison Parker was a journalist in the US who was conducting a routine interview when she and her cameraman were shot dead. The gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, was a former employee of the media company that Parker worked for. 

Flanagan filmed Parker’s final moments and posted them to social media sites. Alison Parker’s father, Andy Parker, has vowed to never watch the footage of his daughter’s final moments, but Google is making that difficult for the mourning dad. 

Andy Parker wants all search results that show his daughter’s death to be banned, but Google has told him that he needs to report the videos himself

Said Andy Parker:

Imagine a human being, someone saying, ‘You have to watch a video of your daughter’s murder and tell us why we should take this down.’

He is calling for Google and Facebook to be held accountable for their content in the same way that news platforms are. 

Parker is now rallying political support. He wants Congress in America to move to introduce legislation to force the internet platforms to regulate their content. 

Google profits from my daughter’s death and I won’t accept it.

All Parker wants is for tech companies like Google and Facebook to be treated like any other publisher – but it is a call that Facebook has long resisted. 

Facebook are publishers

Forty-five percent of Americans get their news from Facebook but despite this, Facebook insists it is a ‘tech platform’, and not a publisher or media company.

In the UK, Facebook has been exposed for its gross ineptitude as regards child abuse images. 

In 2017, the BBC reported 100 child abuse images to Facebook, but 82 of these images remained on the social media site after the reports. 

It’s a shocking indictment of Facebook that it took down less than a fifth of these images that were reported to them, but worse was to come. 

When the BBC contacted Facebook to query why the images were still published on the site, Facebook cancelled a planned interview with the broadcaster and instead reported the journalists involved to the police

“It is against the law for anyone to distribute images of child exploitation,” said Facebook, referring to the communication it  received from the BBC. 

Damian Collins MP, head of the Commons Media Committee, said that Facebook’s actions were “disturbing” and the move to involve the police on journalists highlighting that was “extraordinary”.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said:

Facebook’s failure to remove illegal content from its website is appalling.

Drop the hammer

These tech sites mine our data and our privacy for billions of dollars and they have cash revenues rivalling many countries.

It is time for governments around the world to look at introducing legislation that punishes those sites that continue to publish illegal content of a graphic nature, be it images of torture, murder or child abuse. 

Internet platforms are publishing this vile content and they have had years now, in which to get their house in order.

It is time, in the words of Andy Parker, to “drop the hammer” on them.

Diarmuid Pepper is a freelance journalist formerly a teacher of philosophy and religious studies 

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