An increasing percentage of Americans are getting their news via social media sites and services like Facebook and Twitter.
The Pew Research Center reports that 10% of all U.S. adults get their news from Twitter and 41% from Facebook. The proliferation of these sites and the ease with which news can be created and disseminated by the public is unprecedented.
As such, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media companies have a responsibility to the public they serve in their capacity as emerging and decentralized news organizations — indeed, both Twitter and Facebook took action and removed profiles apparently created by Vester Lee Flanagan II that included videos he recorded as he shot reporter Alison Parker, cameraman Adam Ward, and Chamber of Commerce executive director Vicki Gardner.
While removing the profiles was an important move, it is also the responsibility of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to proactively remove violent perpetrator-produced videos.
Many Facebook and Twitter users, because of the autoplay feature built into these platforms, watched the video of the shooting unknowingly and/or unwillingly. Such videos could trigger a traumatic or a post-traumatic psychological reaction that is more likely to happen if the viewer was not aware they were about to watch an actual murder.
Allowing criminals to share videos of their crimes can inspire others with violent predispositions to commit similar crimes. In the vernacular, these are referred to as copycat crimes; however, a more apt name might be inspired crimes because those with dispositions toward violence might use media reports as a source of information to help them plan and commit their own crimes.
Indeed, recent research shows that 22% of inmates had committed a crime inspired by one they saw in the media while 19% said they found the media a helpful source of information to learn how to commit a crime.
Lastly, allowing the posting ofviolent criminal videos produced by perpetrators sends the message that if others were to engage in similar acts and record them, that they too will get their 15 minutes of fame on social media. Instead of publicizing these horrible events through the lens of the perpetrator, let's reserve social media spaces for comforting each other at times like these when we are overcome with the tension between our despondence over the loss of innocent lives and feeling powerless to change a culture that supports such violent madness.