Dr. Richard Pan Introduces Measure to Require Social Media Companies to Promptly Remove Shootings and Other Violent Crimes Posted or Streamed on their Websites

Social Media has Been Used by Shooters to Further Victimize the Subject of their Assault and it Incentives Violent Behavior by those Seeking to go Viral

January 28, 2020

SACRAMENTO – Because live-streaming violent crimes has become part of a disturbing and perverse trend, Dr. Richard Pan introduced a measure, Senate Bill 890, to prevent social media websites from being used as a tool to further traumatize victims of violent crimes and their families.

“Perpetrators of violence know that the more shocking and violent their crime is, the more likely they are to go viral. We cannot allow the perpetrators of violence to use social media platforms to personally benefit from the violence and criminal activity they committed,” said Dr. Richard Pan.

“We cannot allow social media websites to be used as a tool to further harm victims and their families. While social media companies grapple with how to combat the streaming of violent crimes, protections need to be in place to ensure the rights of victims are respected,” said Nina Salarno Besselman, President, Crime Victims United of California, a key partner on the legislation.

There have been several incidents in which social media websites have been used to stream violent crimes, such as:

  • On Thursday, January 23, 2020, a Montgomery, Alabama man was shot to death while streaming a Facebook Live video. As of the following Saturday, the 46-minute video posted by a Facebook  had been viewed more than 377,000 times with 10,200 shares. 
  • A video of a Cleveland man shooting an elderly man at close range was live-streamed on Facebook in 2017 after posting a video of himself announcing his intent to kill. It took Facebook almost two hours to disable the suspect’s account after the first video was reported. Facebook’s VP of Global Operations, Justin Osofsky, admitted that the company needed to do better in responding to these incidents.
  • In 2017, the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl was live streamed on Facebook. 40 people watched the live stream and the victim was subjected to online attacks and harassment following this traumatic event.

Senate Bill 890 would require social media websites to remove photographs or video recordings of a crime posted by the perpetrator at the request of the victim of the crime depicted in the content. Before making the request, a victim is required to have reported the crime to law enforcement and then share the corresponding police report number with the social media website. A social media website that fails to comply would be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each day that the photograph or video recording remains on the social media website, commencing two hours after receiving a request from the victim of the crime to remove the content.

Video of a well-known antivaxxer assaulting Dr. Richard Pan in August currently remains on the perpetrator’s Facebook page, with over 18,000 views, 170 shares and numerous adulatory comments, despite the fact that Dr. Pan asked Facebook to remove the video from the assailant’s own Facebook page the same day of the assault.

“A social media company must remove violent content of an assault after the subject of the assault asks for it be taken down. I am authoring this bill for victims of crime and their families that don’t deserve to see their victimization over and over again on social media, especially for the personal benefit of the perpetrator,” added Dr. Pan.

Last year, Australia passed legislation criminalizing violent social media posts and holding companies accountable for not removing violent content “expeditiously”.