Facebook and Twitter’s Quick Actions Stopped Video of Virginia Shootings From Being Widely Shared

Monitoring systems worked

Social media doesn't make tragedies any more or less sad. But this morning's shootings in Virginia demonstrated that platforms like Facebook and Twitter can play a role in such tragic stories, and the tech companies behind them need to be ready.

To Facebook and Twitter's credit, they both were today. And they ultimately stopped an unthinkably horrible video from being much more widely circulated.

A gunman, suspected to be Vester Lee Flanagan, who went by the name Bryce Williams as a local TV journalist, shot and killed television reporter Alison Parker and her photographer, Adam Ward, each of who worked for WDBJ-TV, a CBS affiliate for the Roanoke/Lynchburg area in central Virginia. The gunman opened fire around 6:45 a.m. while the tandem was broadcasting live from a strip mall in Moneta, Va., near Roanoke. Parker was interviewing the Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce's Vicki Gardner when the shooting occurred, according to another local station, WSLS10. Gardner was shot in the back and was in surgery, according to the Roanoke Times.

The assailant captured video of his actions and then posted the clip on Facebook and Twitter late Wednesday morning, sickly encouraging others to watch the footage. The gunman apparently performed these actions a few hours after fleeing the crime scene and while being pursued by the police.

Flanagan later shot himself along Interstate 66, and then died after being airlifted to a hospital.

It was only a matter of minutes before Twitter and Facebook deleted the posts and closed the accounts. It's fair to say the companies reacted about as quickly as could be expected.

Facebook has a policy for such situations—it's found in its Community Standards section. For instance, one passage there states, "We also prohibit you from celebrating any crimes you've committed."

A Facebook rep offered the following emailed comment: "We have removed a profile and a Page for violating our Community Standards."

Lastly, here are a couple of tweets that capture how the terrible story unfolded online.