A shooter, radicalized online, plotted a racist attack with plenty of digital fingerprints, intended to livestream it on social media and published a manifesto online. It happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. And it seems to have happened again last week in Buffalo. In the years in between, we’ve heard plenty about social media companies amping up their content moderation efforts and clamping down on violent extremism. Yet nothing — or not enough — has really changed.
In this conversation, Kara Swisher dissects the internet’s role in the Buffalo attack with Wesley Lowery, a journalist who covers race and justice, and Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. The three discuss how extremism spreads online, the role that Fox News and Tucker Carlson play and what platforms like 4chan, Facebook and Twitch could have done differently.
They also examine the free speech argument made by many conservatives and Elon Musk and consider how a Texas law — which allows individuals to sue platforms if they feel their posts have been censored — may give social media platforms cover to do even less. Lowery points out there are many options between being a “hyper-free-speech absolutist” and “censorship.” Ultimately, as he puts it, these platforms need to ask themselves, “If I’m hosting the block party, do I let the Nazi keep showing up and ranting?”
This episode contains strong language.
(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)
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“Sway” is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Caitlin O’Keefe and Wyatt Orme and edited by Nayeema Raza; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair, Michelle Harris and Mary Marge Locker; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; mixing by Carole Sabouraud and Sonia Herrero; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.