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Virginia shooting exposes dark side of social video

Lauren Brousell | Sept. 1, 2015
The tragic killing of two reporters during a newscast last week played out live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The alleged shooter's use of social media raises questions about how popular social services manage auto-play video.

twitter settings autoplay

Companies such as Twitter and Facebook (and many websites that include video ads) use auto-play to entice users to watch video, and so advertisers ultimately get more views. However, the incident in Virginia last week should lead these organizations to re-examine the features, according to Jasso. "I have no doubt that there are high-level meetings going on today at several major social media companies, examining the capabilities of auto-play and the current opt-out policy."

Some of these features are relatively new, companies are still experimenting with them, and Jasso says he believes auto-play will eventually move from opt-out to opt-in. Harris disagrees, and says one situation, no matter how tragic, will probably not spur major changes in social media settings. "People are understandably upset that this awful video auto-played in their feeds," she says. "However, I don't foresee a huge shift in content streaming based on one case, even it if is highly tragic."

(We reached out to Twitter and asked about its stance on auto-play moving forward but did not receive a response.)

Damage control for social sites following tragedies

In the future, social media companies, as well as news organizations, will need to make tough decisions about the many ways breaking news events are covered on their websites, including auto-play of potentially graphic videos and the sensitive balance between showing events in real time and shielding users from offensive content.

Harris says in situations like last week's shooting, following the removal of questionable media, social media companies can do several things to be proactive, starting with transparency. After things calm down and emotions are tempered, social organizations can release details on their solutions and explain the actions are not "a magic fix," she says. The companies should also start conversations with users and get their suggestions on how things could be handled differently in the future.

"When people are upset about a social issue, they want to feel they can contribute to the matter — much of it is emotions mixed with a sense of powerlessness in the situation," she says. "Solicit the feedback, ask for ideas and solutions and begin a discussion — make them part of the solution so that they're not focused on pointing at you as the problem."

Jasso says social media companies should band together to figure out how to handle these issues. "Sure, Google, Twitter and Facebook are having their own private conversations, but I believe they all need to have those conversations together, and quickly. In addition, I think they need to include major institutions in those conversations, like government and law enforcement authorities."


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