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In shooting on live TV, social media played central role

The gunman who killed a reporter and cameraman in Virginia Wednesday posted his own recording of the shooting to social media
Posting of shooting video shows crime changing in digital age 05:19

Social media on Wednesday was flooded with images and videos of the deadly shooting of Alison Parker, 24, an on-air reporter, and Adam Ward, 27, a cameraman, both from CBS Roanoke affiliate WDBJ-TV. Parker was conducting a live interview when the shooting happened.

As the tragedy unfolded, social media platforms like Twitter were used in its traditional way of sharing information and tweeting messages of grief and anger.

But by mid-morning social media's role became entirely different. The alleged gunman, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II, a former WDBJ employee who worked under the name Bryce Williams, took to Twitter to post angry comments directed at the victims.

But most shocking was the graphic video Flanagan posted of the shooting from what appears to be his perspective on Facebook and Twitter.

This screen shot shows the Twitter page of Bryce Williams, whose real name is Vester Lee Flanagan II, shortly after the fatal shooting of WDBJ-TV cameraman Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker during a live broadcast in Moneta, Virginia, early Wednesday morning, August 26, 2015. Twitter via AP

The video was shared on social media platforms before both Flanagan's Twitter and Facebook were taken down.

Instead of being a vehicle to spread news - social media became a platform for a suspected killer to share his his murders for millions of Twitter and Facebook users to see.

In the wake of the videos spreading on social media, with many expressing concern over the nature of the content, there are question about how to effectively police social media sites and protect users from being flooded with graphic images.

CBS News reached out to various platforms about this issue. What is clear across the board is that users themselves are the first line of defense, with platforms relying on them to flag these instances directly to the company.

Here are some of the policies of several social media giants:


Facebook spokesperson has sent CBS News the following statement pertaining to Flanagan's profile: "We have removed a profile and a Page for violating our Community Standards."

Facebook standards specifically states in the "Criminal Activity" section that: "We also prohibit you from celebrating any crimes you've committed."

Their standards further state that when users share content "for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence," it will be removed.


Twitter referred CBS News to their media policies, which state, in part:

We do not mediate content. All content should be marked appropriately as per our guidelines. You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. ... Uploaded media that is reported and that is determined to violate the law will be removed from the site and your account will be suspended.

Flanagan's Twitter account was suspended shortly after he posted video of the attack.


YouTube depends on users to report questionable content, which the company will then review to see if it violates their policy. If so, they reserve the right to remove it. A full explanation for what could be deemed inappropriate can be found here, but on the specific question of violent or graphic content, the video-sharing site says:

It's not okay to post violent or gory content that's primarily intended to be shocking, sensational, or disrespectful. If posting graphic content in a news or documentary context, please be mindful to provide enough information to help people understand what's going on in the video. Don't encourage others to commit specific acts of violence.

Specifically referencing Wednesday's attack, a YouTube spokesperson sent CBS News the following statement:

"Our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible crime. YouTube has clear policies against videos of gratuitous violence and we remove them when they're flagged."

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