Social media sites and video platforms are grappling with whether or not to pull videos depicting the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Facebook and Twitter both stepped in Friday hours after Abe’s death and announced they would remove videos showing the assassination, which they claim violate the company’s rules. The takedowns highlight an inherent content moderation tension at social media companies: While assassination videos are graphic by nature, some internet platforms have still traditionally opted to allow videos depicting assassinations and other acts of political violence involving well-known figures due in part to their newsworthiness.
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, a Twitter spokesperson on Friday said the company was “proactively removing,” the assassination videos, which depict a man firing what appears to be a homemade double-barreled shotgun twice into Abe’s chest. Twitter says it officially removed the offending videos because they violate the company’s restrictions on graphic violence. The Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo it was curating useful tweets about the attack by relevant authorities and media organizations and said it encouraged people to report media in tweets they think should be treated as “sensitive.”
Meta, on the other hand, in a statement sent to ABC News, cited its policy on dangerous individuals, as the reason for its video removals. Meta also said it had disabled an account allegedly tied to the suspected shooter.
“We do not and will not tolerate any violent behavior on our platform,” Meta told ABC News. “To keep our platform a safe place to connect, we are working to remove any violating content related to the incident.”
Meta did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
As of writing, Gizmodo was still able to find videos of the event on YouTube, however selecting several of the videos triggered a warning saying, “the following content has been identified by the Youtube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.” At least as of now, YouTube appears to be taking a slightly different approach to Facebook and Twitter.
After reviewing several of the links Gizmodo spotted, a YouTube spokesperson reached back out with a statement explaining its current approach to the assassination videos.
“Our systems are prominently surfacing videos from authoritative news sources in search and recommendations related to the assassination of former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, including through our Top News shelf,” the spokesperson said. “Additionally, our teams remain vigilant and will remove or age-restrict content in accordance with our Community Guidelines.”
Gizmodo reached out to video streaming platform Twitch for clarity on its strategy around the videos but we haven’t heard back.
Abe, who served as Japan’s Prime minister from 2006-2007 and again between 2012-2020, was shot in the back Friday while giving a speech in the city of Nara. The gunman reportedly fired off two shots with the DIY firearm from a distance of around 10 feet. In the video, the supposed shotgun more closely resembles a bundle of pipes held together by tape. The suspect, a 41-year former member of Japan’s navy, reportedly told police he wanted to kill Abe because he believed Abe held ties to a “certain group,” according to Bloomberg.
Firearms are extremely rare in Japan, making the method of the attack all the more surprising. To put that into perspective, Japan has only experienced 14 gun-related deaths since 2017, and just one for all of 2021, according to The New York Times.
While videos depicting Abe’s death do violate the written rules for most major internet platforms, those same sites have tended to allow more leeway for historical political assassinations. For instance, Gizmodo was able to find videos depicting John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on both Facebook Watch and YouTube. The leeway isn’t limited to decades of footage either. Gizmodo was able to view footage depicting the comparatively more graphic 2016 assassination of Andrei Karlov, the former Russian ambassador to Turkey, on both platforms as well.
Update 2:22 P.M: Added statement from YouTube