After Larossi Abballa killed a French police commander and his romantic partner on Monday evening, he posted a 12-minute video from the scene to Facebook Live. In a mix of French and Arabic, reports note that he smiled eerily as he urged his viewers to target police and journalists, and mulled over what to do about the dead couple's still-living 3-year-old son.
"Kill them, kill them, kill them," Abballa says of his list of targets. Hours later, police stormed the scene in Magnanville, France, and shot him dead. (The 3-year-old was ultimately left unharmed.)
This surreal dispatch from a murder scene may be the first act of terrorism streamed via Facebook Live. But it will not be the last. Already Facebook's live streaming feature has captured rape, threats of violence and a shooting. In a time when our urge is to document everything in real time, it stands to reason that violent, disturbing content will inevitably wind up being broadcast, too.
Facebook has struggled to catch and take down these streams fast enough. "There are unique challenges when it comes to content and safety for Live videos," the company said earlier this year. Since the incident, Abballa's account has been shut down and his post is no longer available via Facebook, but copies of it have been made and spread around the web as Islamic State propaganda.
Abballa had previously spent time in jail over jihadist links, but in this particular act of terror he appeared to have acted alone. In his video, he said he was responding to a call from Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the terrorist group’s spokesperson, to carry out killings abroad during the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week. Abballa appeared to target the police officer because of his profession, ambushing him outside of his home.
One edited-down version of the video was disseminated via the ISIS-affiliated website A'maq, the cut placing emphasis on Abballa's call to arms and his threat that the European soccer competition Euro 2016 would "be like a cemetery."
“We are working closely with the French authorities as they deal with this terrible crime," Facebook told Fusion. "Terrorists and acts of terrorism have no place on Facebook. Whenever terrorist content is reported to us, we remove it as quickly as possible. We treat takedown requests by law enforcement with the highest urgency.”
It's difficult for Facebook to monitor what its more than a billion users are posting in real time. Facebook relies on users to flag problematic content, as well as employing a small team to monitor the most popular live videos so that action can be taken more quickly if there is something objectionable being broadcast.
How to police terror groups' use of social network platforms to spread propaganda has long plagued Silicon Valley companies. In Twitter's war against ISIS propaganda, it began proactively shutting down ISIS-affiliated accounts rather than trying to police individual content, but these days, new accounts are still popping up faster than Twitter is able to disable them.
Facebook Live, like YouTube and Twitter before it, could become yet another tool for the ISIS propaganda machine. In these days of globalized publishing platforms, it is just one more place from which to disseminate a manifesto, to lay down the "cultural script" for future acts of terror.