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The Empire State Strikes Back – Calls For New Measures To Track ‘Hateful Conduct’ On Social Media

This week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers announced a sweeping gun control package. It would make the Empire State the first to prohibit the sale of body armor, while the centerpiece of the bill would require licenses for all semi-automatic rifles. The age to obtain said license would be 21, up from the current federal law, which allows 18-year-olds to purchase a long gun.

“New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country but clearly we need to make them even stronger,” said Hochul. “Working closely with Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie, and all of our partners in the legislature, we will strengthen our gun laws, help keep New Yorkers safe, give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent crime, and stop the spread of dangerous weapons.”

In addition to the direct restrictions on gun purchases, the bill would require the social media networks to provide a clear and concise policy regarding how they would respond to incidents of hateful conduct on their platform, and for those companies to maintain easily accessible mechanisms for reporting hateful conduct. The New York bill also calls for the creation of a new Task Force on Social Media and Violent Extremism in the Attorney General’s office that could study and investigate the role of social media companies in promoting and facilitating violent extremism and domestic terrorism online.

Response To The Buffalo Mass Shooting

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James has been critical of the social platform’s response following last month’s mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo.

“The terror attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depths and danger of the online forums that spread and promote hate,” James told reporters.

The suspect had allegedly posted a manifesto on Google and then live streamed the fatal shooting of 10 people on the Amazon-owned Twitch platform. Though the stream was taken down less than two minutes after the violence began, it was duplicated on other streaming sites. A copy of the video was even reportedly viewed more than three million times before it was removed.

“The social media companies have actually done the best that they can do in removing this content, but when it is live streamed, it can be recorded and then shared elsewhere,” warned Professor Jason Mollica of the school of communication at the American University in Washington, D.C.

Combating Dangerous Conduct And Content

The social media platforms have been under fire for their role in the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and it has already proven to be a challenge to counter it. Trying to also address extremism and hateful conduct will be no easier.

“We’ve heard and seen what these platforms could do, and they’ve shown they can attempt to address it,” said Mollica. “But we’ve also seen time and time again that information will get out. There is always a workaround.”

That has been true half way around the world in Ukraine, where social media has proven to be a digital lifeline to some in the warzone. Likewise, social media was one of the few lines of communication to those engaged in the Arab Spring movement a decade ago. Even when there have been attempts to cut it off, information was able to get through.

New York could face similar challenges.

“It is still going to be difficult to have a staff attempt to monitor everything that is posted,” explained Mollica. “You can create the office, but where are the resources coming from? You can ‘restrict’ extremism, and you can even take accounts down. While that will plug a hole, there will be other cracks where the information gets through. This is the nature of social media.

“The idea of what New York State wants to do is applaudable, and perhaps even necessary, but I still don’t know if it can be effective,” Mollica continued. “While it will be good if every state created a similar task force and we created a community to monitor hateful content, finding social media accountable is going to be very tough to do.”