Silicon Valley Angers U.K. Media Attack Dog After NZ Shootings

(Bloomberg) -- One of Britain’s more recognizable politicians took time out from the interminable wrangling over Brexit to take aim at one of the main subjects he’s better known for -- how to better regulate social media.

Tom Watson entered the public consciousness almost a decade ago for his dogged pursuit of tighter press regulation that was triggered in part by the phone-hacking scandal. His relentless battles with Rupert Murdoch led the news bulletins. On Friday, he let it rip at Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Angers U.K. Media Attack Dog After NZ Shootings
Silicon Valley Angers U.K. Media Attack Dog After NZ Shootings

Following the mass shooting in New Zealand that was live streamed on Facebook and then disseminated on other platforms, Watson slammed social media organizations for failing to take violence and radicalization more seriously. The murder spree in Christchurch, which targeted two mosques and left 49 dead, is one of the most lethal mass shootings in modern history.

“The big social media platforms lost control,” said Watson, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party in the U.K. “They failed the victims of that terrorist atrocity. They failed to show any decency and responsibility. Today must be the day when good people commit to take back control from the wicked, ignorant oligarchs of Silicon Valley.”

Watson’s comments underline different attitudes toward regulation on either side of the Atlantic. Germany recently imposed “far-reaching restrictions in the processing of user data” for Facebook and its subsidiaries, including WhatsApp and Instagram. Last year, the European Union enacted the General Data Protection Regulation, more commonly referred to as “the right to be forgotten,” which effectively affected every major tech company.

Regarding Friday’s incident, Facebook said it “quickly removed” the live stream and account, as well as “any praise or support for the crime and the shooter.” However, the video was more quickly ripped from the platform and redistributed on YouTube, which is operated by Google. YouTube said it was “working vigilantly to remove any violent footage.” Twitter, where the purported gunman posted a manifesto, removed his account.

Despite efforts by the different platforms, the video spread rapidly, seemingly more quickly than the companies were able to remove. Authorities in New Zealand asked the public not to share or view the graphic content. A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson told a local publication that sharing the video was probably a crime.

U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid also expressed his frustration with YouTube, Google, Facebook and Twitter for allowing extremist content on their platforms -- but stopped short of suggesting the government would tighten its rules. He took to Twitter to share his anger.

Google is already in trouble with the EU and is set for another hefty antitrust fine as soon as next week. The penalty, the last in a trilogy of EU reprimands for its Alphabet unit, targets the AdSense advertising service. The company has already racked up 6.7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) in fines.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.