After a terrorist attack, there are two places to avoid: the crime scene and social media. The attack in Vienna has shown once again that Facebook is overwhelmed when events roll over. The platform has been flooded with lies and misinformation. Unsettled users uploaded photos and videos showing shootings and violence.
Facebook failed in two ways. On the one hand, it couldn’t keep up with deleting the content. On the other hand, the platform actively contributed to the dissemination of the wrong or disturbing content: On the topic page “The terrorist attack in the inner city, Vienna”, which was created after the attack, contributions from people who are in the vicinity are received. There were postings to be seen for hours that violate Facebook’s community standards.
“Thanks Facebook, that videos start automatically showing me an execution in Vienna”, wrote about Marco Schreuder, Member of the Federal Council of the Greens. The Viennese data protection activist Wolfie Christl also makes serious accusations against the company. “In my memory, I’ve seen at least a few dozen problematic posts,” he says. In some cases, the posts would have triggered hundreds of likes and comments after a few minutes.
Since Christl did not document the content in detail, it is difficult to understand the exact extent. In fact, several users on Twitter shared screenshots of corresponding photos and videos that could be seen on Facebook’s topic page. Even on Tuesday morning, there were around a dozen posts showing scenes from the crime scenes. Some of the content has been removed, and some Facebook now displays warnings before the videos play.
“Since yesterday evening, our teams have been removing content related to the attack from Facebook and Instagram that violates our guidelines,” said a Facebook spokeswoman. “This also applies to the images and videos in our Crisis Response Tool.” The SZ also wanted to know when and according to what criteria such themed pages are created, how Facebook selects the content to be seen there, and whether the allegations that violent videos started automatically in the meantime are true. Facebook has not yet responded to these questions.
“This is an absolute declaration of bankruptcy”
Christl demands that topics such as the terrorist attack in Vienna be more strictly controlled. “Advance moderation is probably the only responsible approach here,” he says. Facebook employees should review every post that appears there. “The fact that Facebook can’t even do that with such topic pages is an absolute declaration of bankruptcy. The company makes billions in profits every quarter and thus easily has the appropriate resources.”
The Vienna police appealed in the evening and at night multiple urgentnot to share photos and videos on social media that show emergency services, victims or suspected perpetrators. Such requests only reach a fraction of the local people. Some knowingly spread disinformation because they want to panic or get attention. Most eyewitnesses are simply insecure and overwhelmed, they look for advice and help on social networks.
Of course, platforms cannot remove every problematic post in a split second in such situations. The fact that Facebook sometimes took hours to do this and lost control of its own topic page itself raises questions: Was the company so focused on the election in the USA that it could not react quickly enough? And will the next challenge be better if the US president continues to spread lies about the integrity of the election and chaos breaks out?