The Miami man who shot his wife after she told him she was leaving him. The brutes who beat up a seven months pregnant woman in Portsmouth last week. The Nairobi terrorists currently slaughtering innocent people in a shopping centre massacre.
On the face of it, these villains don’t appear to have much in common besides their appalling lack of humanity. But they do: Derek Medina, Phoebe Tilt’s attackers and the Nairobi Islamists have all documented their appalling crimes on social media.
It’s a horrendous thing to consider, but more and more victims of all kinds of crimes are now worrying that details of – and even photographs from – their terrifying ordeals will be posted online for sick internet geeks to leer and laugh at.
Gloating criminals are taking to Twitter and Facebook to post lurid details of their abuses and even to taunt their victims with photographs: Tilt’s attackers goaded her with photographs of her being gagged and given a black eye. “I’m watching you and your family,” wrote one of her assailants in a private message on the social network.
Tilt told British newspaper The Sun she feared her unborn child would not survive the attack and that she was terrified she might be raped as the men yelled at each other in “an African language” before hitting her again and then leaving the house.
What these monsters post online publicly can be just as chilling. After brutally slaying his wife, Medina, 31, posted a picture of himself next to her dead body on Facebook. It took five hours before Facebook finally deleted the image. “”I’m going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys miss you guys take care Facebook people you will see me in the news,” he wrote.
Perhaps most disturbing of all are the Islamist terrorists who have been providing running commentaries of their atrocities via Twitter. One of their accounts has been suspended, but another, called “HSM Superstars”, was still live this afternoon.
The length of time much of this material remains online demonstrates the challenges inherent in policing scaleable content networks like Facebook and Twitter, which often claim to be nothing more than “publishing platforms”, but which nonetheless do respond to some takedown requests.
The tardiness of some social media companies, in particular Facebook, in responding to use of their networks to promote terror and gloat about vile crimes suggests that their outsourced moderation centres may not be sufficient to protect victims and the public from the ranting and posturing of psychopaths and terrorists, who use the networks to massage their own egos after committing unspeakable acts of violence.
The images they post can often be found even after their accounts are suspended, re-hosted on anonymous image services and linked to from aggregators such as reddit, which insists that it is not responsible for the content of links on its site. (But which, again, responds to negative publicity by closing sections of its site from time to time.)
Twitter is particularly ripe for abuse because it is so straightforward to set up an account and begin to publish to the world.
In the past, sickos who wanted to brag about their crimes would have had a pretty small audience – fellow inmates in a prison van, perhaps. But now they are able to share the details of their vicious attacks with the entire world, via Facebook, Twitter and other social networks and link aggregators.
Social networks have absolved themselves of responsibility for the content their users post, fearful of having to police everything on their networks. But for how long is this a sustainable attitude?