House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mass., called this week for executives from leading tech companies to detail efforts to prevent the sharing of violent videos on their platforms after a mass shooter in New Zealand live-streamed his attack on social media.
In a letter made public on Tuesday, Thompson asked the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Alphabet-owned YouTube to attend a private briefing with the committee on March 27. Thompson noted that a video of the mass shooting, which killed at least 50 people at two New Zealand mosques, was “widely available” on various platforms after its initial live-stream on Facebook.
“Your companies must prioritize responding to these toxic and violent ideologies with resources and attention,” Thompson wrote. “If you are unwilling to do so, Congress must consider policies to ensure that terrorist content is not distributed on your platforms—including by studying the examples being set by other countries.”
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube faced widespread criticism after the shooting as they struggled to remove a wave of uploads related to the shooting. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack around the world within the first 24 hours. YouTube said it removed tens of thousands of videos.
Representatives for Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would attend the briefing. YouTube declined to specifically comment on Thompson’s request. Twitter also declined to comment.
"The volume of related videos uploaded to YouTube in the 24 hours after the attack was unprecedented both in scale and speed, at times as fast as a new upload every second,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “In response, we took a number of steps, including automatically rejecting any footage of the violence, temporarily suspending the ability to sort or filter searches by upload date, and making sure searches on this event pulled up results from authoritative news sources like The New Zealand Herald or USA Today.”
A Microsoft spokesperson said the company "received the Chairman's letter and we're ready to work with him, the committee and with others to address the issues he raises." The company did not say which of its executives would attend the briefing, if any.
Thompson’s call for a private briefing came amid a period of unprecedented scrutiny for the tech industry. Executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google have each traveled to Capitol Hill in recent months to meet with lawmakers regarding various issues, including allegations of bias on their platforms and data privacy practices.