Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I’ve checked your Facebook page and I can’t see any mention or condolences from you of something that happened to us in New Zealand more than three days ago. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook sent a message of condolence, so I can only assume you haven’t noticed. I’m surprised you did not see it on your news feed…

I also wondered if you could help us with something. Could you please turn the livestreaming function off on your website, which more than two million of us use in New Zealand every day. It’s a really big deal for us.

Here’s why: a 28 year old Australian citizen called Brenton Tarrant shot 50 people dead and injured at least 50 others on Friday in and around two mosques in our second largest city, Christchurch. He had a Go-Pro on his helmet and he livestreamed the first 17 minutes of that attack on Facebook.

Your employees left it up for an hour before removing it, and then spent much of the next couple of days playing whack-a-mole trying to remove it from a myriad of Facebook pages and groups. Meanwhile, everyone else on the internet was either working tirelessly to clip it up and redistribute it to amplify Tarrant’s message of hate for Muslims, or were also playing whack-a-mole to try to shut down these extremely distressing and hateful moving images.

It’s as if that 17 minutes of awful, awful footage has metastasised and is now propagating itself around the Internet to fuel yet more hatred and (God we hope not) potential copycat actions. 

The thing is: you should have known this was going to happen, and you’ve actually talked in the past that you would do everything in your power to stop your site being used to weaponise these sorts of acts of hate-fueled rage, whoever they are directed at.

I saw almost two years ago a man named Steve Stephens pulled up in a car next to a 74-year old man named Robert Godwin Sr in Cleveland Ohio who was walking along the footpath. While filming the events on his phone, Stephens said: “I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude.” He then shot the man dead at close range, and then uploaded the video to Facebook, before commenting on it in a Facebook Live stream.

I saw that two days later you said in a speech to software developers that your heart went out to Godwin’s family and “we have a lot more to do here.”

“We have a lot of work, and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” you said, adding you would improve your filtering and handling of violent videos.

Just wondering. What did you actually do? And why have you said nothing about this atrocity? There were 50 people slaughtered.

Our Prime Minister is thinking about all of this and she mentioned yesterday that your direct report, Sheryl Sandberg, had sent her an email expressing condolences, and that’s partly because they have met personally. Is that the best Facebook and you can do?

Just turn off unmoderated livestreaming, at least

Wouldn’t it be safer just to not allow livestreaming, certainly by those people who are not pre-approved. Youtube has that policy.

Surely you have enough money already?

The problem is that once this awful video footage is up, it cannot be locked down or cleaned up. So the bar should be at least somewhere above ground level for the ability to publish and broadcast.

You’ve also said you want to use Artificial Intelligence and other tools to clean this stuff up after it is broadcast or published. That’s just not good enough because then you’re simply playing a very fast but ultimately pointless game of whack-a-mole. Even Youtube, which has plenty of experience with this, can’t find these videos fast enough because the trolls and the extremists always seem to be one step ahead of them with slight tweaks to the footage and audio to defeat the pattern recognition tools.

Just play it safe and stop livestreaming altogether. Do we really need it? Surely you have enough money already?

Come and visit us too

We’d also like to extend an invitation to visit us and meet some of the families who lost loved ones, let alone the rest of our communities that are in the most awful pain, and to be slightly pointed about it, are furious about the role of Facebook in weaponising Tarrant’s acts and views.

Some people say you have blood on your hands in this case. I think that’s a bit extreme, but I think you have a responsibility to millions of New Zealanders who use your service. The content they put on Facebook and their usage patterns and data have become the product you sell.

It’s the least you owe us.

No doubt, we’ll also have a few pointed questions in a Royal Commission that is bound to be set up. It has a few powers to require you to turn up and say a few things.

I know you seem reluctant to appear before public bodies (the British Parliament is still waiting), but I think you owe it to the people murdered on Friday afternoon by a man who loved using Facebook and planned your service as an integral part of his ‘show’.

Kind regards

Bernard Hickey

* For a short time on Friday afternoon, ran a news clip from the beginning of the killer’s video, showing his approach towards the first mosque and ending as he started firing from outside.(It did not contain video from inside, and thus did not show any of the violence and deaths in the mosque, or identify individuals. This site did not link to any version of the full video.) After complaints from readers, the edited video was removed, along with social media posts about the story in which it was placed. We apologise to readers who were upset and offended by use of that item. Tim Murphy and Mark Jennings, Co-editors.

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