Social media networks withhold livestream data of Halle synagogue attack
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Social media networks withhold livestream data of Halle synagogue attack

US tech companies decline to release info on online spread of footage, which would show impact of new measures they vowed to take to prevent amplification of violent content

Two women light candles among others and flowers next to the entrance of the synagogue in Munich, during a protest against anti-Semitism on October 11, 2019 two days after a deadly shooting outside a synagogue in Halle. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)
Two women light candles among others and flowers next to the entrance of the synagogue in Munich, during a protest against anti-Semitism on October 11, 2019 two days after a deadly shooting outside a synagogue in Halle. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

US social media giants have declined to release data on the spread of the livestream of a deadly shooting at a synagogue in the German city of Halle, despite pledging to implement new policies to prevent the amplification of violent content, Reuters reported on Saturday.

The data would show the effectiveness of new measures taken by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCF).

GIFCF, a group including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, had vowed in May to take “transparent, specific measures” to prevent the spread of graphic videos across their platforms. The pledge came after the  killing of 51 people in the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings that were livestreamed on Facebook.

GIFCF members subsequently introduced a data sharing system for major incidents and agreed to implement “regular and transparent public reporting, in a way that is measurable and supported by clear methodology,” Reuters reported.

An armed man fires on a street in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue in that city which killed two. (Screenshot/Andreas Splett/ATV-Studio Halle/AFP)

On Thursday, the forum said that footage shared of the Halle shooting, which killed two and was livestreamed on the Twitch gaming platform was “significantly less impactful online” than the stream from the Christchurch shootings.

Twitch is owned by Amazon, which announced last month that it was joining the GIFCF.

The companies said their users shared digital fingerprint data for 36 distinct videos of the attack, a significant improvement from the 800 that had been shared after the Christchurch shooting.

However, the forum did not release the data showing how many people viewed the livestream in addition to how many streams their systems had managed to take down automatically. No reason was immediately given regarding why they had chosen to withhold the data.

Stephan Balliet (Screengrab)

Twitch said last week that the attack was streamed for 35 minutes and eventually seen by some 2,200 people — five of them while it was live — before the video was removed.

However, such videos are frequently shared across various social media platforms upon being uploaded, and without the data from GIFCF it is not possible for the public to know how far the footage of synagogue shooting managed to spread.

The Anti-Defamation League said last week that the video had been widely shared on white supremacist channels on the Telegram messaging app.

Twitter spokesman Ian Plunkett told Reuters that his company releases data on “terrorist content removals” twice a year in its transparency report. “We’ve nothing else to share,” he added.

Facebook and Twitter declined to respond to Reuters’ questions regarding how the social media giants choose to publish such figures.

Police officers cross a wall at a crime scene in Halle, Germany, October 9, 2019 after a shooting incident.(Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)

“In order to assess the efficacy of the protocol, we urge the GIFCT and member companies to release data on the impact of the protocol on the spread of the video,” the ADL’s Daniel Kelley told Reuters.

Two people were killed and several injured in the Halle rampage. The suspected gunman, who was arrested after a shootout with police, has been identified as German 27-year-old Stephan Balliet.

The video of the shooting at a synagogue and a Turkish restaurant included a “manifesto” with racist and anti-Semitic commentary.

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