I had planned to write about another topic this month but then the New Zealand shooting happened. Yet again, we found ourselves heartbroken at the news of another mass shooting, an attack that claimed the lives of fifty innocent people. Of particular concern and grief to the Organization for Social Media Safety was the role that social media played in this horror.
The perpetrator planned this attack with the intent to gain and maximize social media exposure. As one Twitter user reported, “The New Zealand massacre was live-streamed on Facebook, announced on 8chan, reposted on YouTube, commentated about on Reddit, and mirrored around the world before the tech companies could even react.” (@drewharwell).
Social media-motivated violence, attacks committed for the purpose of filming and distributing through social media, is the reason that the Organization for Social Meda Safety came into existence. In late 2016, then 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was viciously attacked outside a fast food restaurant. The attacker’s friends filmed the assault and distributed it on social media where it quickly went viral. Sadly, what happened to Jordan was far from the only act of social media-motivated violence that year. Beginning in 2006, near the birth of major social media, these type of attacks were doubling every year, and, just as concerning, the attacks were evolving to be more and more gruesome and violent. So, by the time of Jordan’s assault in 2016, thousands and thousands of assault videos were online being viewed by millions and included footage of murders, kidnappings, and tortures.
Impossible to prove but not difficult to imagine that were it not for social media this attack would not have happened. Hate is surging through the internet, serving to radicalize more and more individuals. Videos of raw violence and mass violence have, for an increasing number, normalized and even glorified the perversity. And, the ability to share and live stream gives a platform to those who crave attention and want exposure no matter the method or cost.
The Organization for Social Media Safety believes that we must and we can reverse this tragic trend. Our approach to stopping social media-motivated violence is no different than our approach to stopping all social media-related dangers: through education, advocacy, and technology development. To date, we have talked to thousands of students, parents, and educators about Jordan’s story to raise awareness and teach skills on how to address and react to violence and hate speech on social media. We have developed and passed the nation’s first law, Jordan’s Law, to deter social media motivated violence. And, we are working to provide better technological tools for parents, schools, and even the social media platforms themselves, to make sure that these videos cannot even see the light of day on any of our youths’ screens.
We mourn the tragic loss of life in New Zealand, yet we must remain hopeful that we can successfully fight back against this epidemic. That is why the Organization for Social Media Safety is working hard every day to end social media-motivated violence. Thank you for joining with us on this mission.