Thai baby's murder on Facebook Live puts online controls under scrutiny
A relative of the Thai baby whose murder was shown on Facebook Live earlier this week said he was too distraught and intent on getting police to the crime scene to worry about getting the horrific videos taken down.
The gruesome incident this week highlights how those most affected by offensive content are usually too distracted to report it to the authorities. It also exposes the challenges that live streaming content poses to both governments monitoring for offensive material on the internet and the companies that host online content.
On Monday, in an abandoned building in the Thai seaside resort of Phuket, 20-year-old Wuttisan Wongtalay turned on Facebook Live from his mobile phone. Then he picked up his 11-month-old daughter in her pink dress, tied a rope around her neck and hanged her. A second short video briefly shows her lifeless body. After that, he turned off the camera and killed himself.
For the family of little Natalie Triratana, removing the videos was the last thing on their minds when they first popped up on Wuttisan's Facebook feed at around 4.50 p.m. on Monday.
Her mother's cousin, Suksan Buachanit, said he called Thailand's 191 police hotline to ask for help locating the building. By the time police and relatives found it, it was too late.
"A local reporter told me to report it (to Facebook) but we were all occupied at the scene," Suksan told Reuters in Phuket.
It took more than a day - and 370,000 views - before Facebook removed those few minutes of video.
Others that Reuters spoke to in Phuket who had seen the videos, including friends and relatives of the dead girl's parents, said they were too preoccupied by the tragedy to report the incident to Facebook.
For the social media company, with nearly 2 billion users, it was yet another case that exposed the challenges of quickly spotting and removing offensive content. The killing of the baby in Thailand followed the live broadcast shooting of an elderly man in Cleveland, Ohio.
In that incident, it took two hours to remove the video, bringing intense criticism on the social media giant and prompting it to promise "ways that new technologies can help us make sure Facebook is a safe environment".
It was unclear how many viewers alerted Facebook to the killing of the baby. Facebook did not respond to questions.
But by the morning the baby's murder had been reported in local media and was one of the most talked about stories in Thailand. Several local and international journalists told Reuters they had reported the videos to Facebook and asked the company for comment.
The head of Thailand's police's Technology Crime Suppression Division, Supachet Chokchai, said he was alerted to the baby murder videos by police in Phuket but he declined to say when that was. The division monitors online content ranging from anti-monarchy content to fraudulent websites.
It also has a hotline for the public to call in tip-offs about offensive content.
Nor would Supachet say when police then asked the digital ministry to get in touch with Facebook. The ministry said by the time police reported the videos on Tuesday afternoon it had already heard about them from an anonymous tip-off and had told Facebook.
The ministry contacted Facebook through a "direct channel" at noon on Tuesday, according to Somsak Khaosuwan, the ministry's deputy permanent secretary. He did not elaborate on what the direct channel was or say whom the ministry contacted at Facebook.
It was only just after 5.00 p.m. - about five hours later and more than a full day after the videos were first streamed - that Facebook took them down.
A Facebook statement called the incident "appalling" and said there was "absolutely no place for content of this kind" on the network. It did not respond to Reuters questions as to why it took so long to remove the videos.
Thai police said they would review ways to take down online content after the killing.
Police blamed the delay partly on the time difference between the United States, where Facebook is headquartered, and Thailand. They did not explain at exactly which stage the time difference had proved problematic, however.
A spokesman for the police also said the force was tight on staffing.
Thailand, along with other authoritarian governments in Asia, is more geared up to monitor politically sensitive content online.
Censorship has been ramped up since a 2014 coup and hundreds of websites have been blocked or shut down for content deemed inappropriate or offensive.
Thailand is further tightening controls on internet users.
This week, Thailand's national telecoms regulator ordered all internet service providers to block web content deemed illegal by the courts within a week or face having their licenses revoked.
Thailand is also working on a cyber security bill that would allow the state to conduct large-scale surveillance in the name of national security by wiretapping telephones and computers without the need for court approval.