On Saturday, a white 18-year-old gunman drove 200 miles to Buffalo, New York, entered a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood and opened fire. He killed ten shoppers and wounded three others. In addition to committing an unthinkable act of violence, leading to a tragic loss of life and peace in the community, the killer also chose to broadcast his crime live on Twitch for the world to see.
But we are not here to report on the shooting itself; many other publications have looked at the incident in great detail. Instead, we are here to address the implications of a content moderation law that may require the shooter’s video to remain online. Texas was introduced recently HB20, a law that prohibits social media and streaming platforms with more than 50 million average monthly users in the United States from “censoring” content based on the user’s “point of view.” This means that larger networks such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are prohibited from blocking, banning, removing or even dismantling any user or content that may be considered “expressing” any opinion. (If that sounds incredibly vague, it’s because.)
When it comes to content like the tweets of Elon Musk (or even the former president), a bill like HB20 has a leg to stand on. But in the face of amazing graphics, motivated by hatred violence like what happened on saturday, it’s hard to argue that a private streaming site should be required to maintain a video that could traumatize its community and potentially encourage future criminal activity. However, some worry that screenshots or screenshots of a stream like this could be technically protected by law, prompting the escalation of HB20 to the Supreme Court for review.
The first would be a problem for Twitch, which interrupted the live broadcast of the shooter less than two minutes after its start. (The shooter also described in detail some of his plans for the shooting of Discord, which is said to have been investigated.) Taken at a clear value, the HB20 sounds as if Twitch was legally required to maintain the live broadcast; however, small pieces of the law may provide enough exceptions for Twitch to escape unscathed.
Part of the HB20 allows platforms to remove content that violates their acceptable use policy, as long as the platform immediately notifies the user of the reason for removing their content and allows them to appeal the decision. Given that it is common for platforms to ban hate speech and / or acts of violence, it is likely within the rights of most websites to remove a video like this without requiring prior investigation. And in the context of a shooting like this, an appeal would be a formality rather than anything.
HB20 also includes forms of content moderation with existing legal protection. The law specifically “does not prohibit a social media platform or interactive computer service from: censoring expression that [platform] is specifically authorized to censor by federal law; or censoring illegal expression, including expression that unlawfully harasses or illegally incites violence. ” It is easy to argue that streams, screenshots or screenshots of mass shootings can incite violence, while hate crimes in general can constitute unlawful harassment.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. This must happen before a possible reversal by the Supreme Court, which received an urgent request for intervention this week.