News crew shooting shows perils of auto-play videos on Twitter, Facebook

Facebook and Twitter are facing a backlash to their video autoplay feature after users were shown a horrifying video of two journalists being shot and killed this morning in Virginia during a live broadcast on WDBJ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke.

The graphic video showed the gunman walk up to reporter Alison Parker, 24, then began firing shots at her and her cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, before the stand-up abruptly ended, much to the shock of the anchor in the studio.

Screams from the reporter and bullets being fired could be heard in the video clip before the camera fell to the ground. In what is the most harrowing moment, the camera briefly recorded the suspect holding his gun — point-blank — at the two before ending. Virginia State Police said the suspect might be a “disgruntled employee” of WDBJ and the motive has not been identified.

Video of the event quickly circulated throughout Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Certainly a news event like this would catch the attention of the Internet, many users were angry that they didn’t have the option to prevent the video from automatically playing.

For both social networks, autoplay videos have become ubiquitous because of advertisers who bank on the instant attention it garners. Also, companies can charge higher ad rates on the formats making it a lucrative moneymaker.

Still, many are saying that Twitter and Facebook have a “moral obligation” to turn off the function for horrific videos like this:

That type of sentiment from users was practically universal, complaining that seeing the murder was unwarranted and should’ve been halted.

One of the most popular tweets this morning shows how to turn off autoplay on Twitter, much to the relief of other users:

Digiday asked Twitter and Facebook for comment but has not yet heard back.

Conversation around the shooting gravitated from shocked to remembrance, telling others not to share the video rather post pictures of the two and a tribute produced by the station:

Update: The suspected gunman, Vester Flanagan, has not killed himself but is in “very critical condition,” reports WDBJ according to police.

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