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Horror over live broadcast of hate crime

Facebook feature airs vicious attack; funny tweets turn distasteful; Trump gets spoofed


Facebook's live streaming feature was once again in the spotlight after a horrific hate crime in the US was broadcast by the attackers.

The four African American perpetrators - Jordan Hill, Brittany Covington, Tesfaye Cooper and Tanishia Covington - had kidnapped a young white man with special needs and assaulted him in Chicago.

In the 30-minute video, Austin Hilbourn, 18, is seen cowering in the corner of a room as his attackers taunt and beat him.

While the teen is restrained and his mouth is covered with duct tape, one man uses a knife to cut his clothes and scalp, drawing blood.

Hilbourn is also injected with needles, peppered with cigarette ash, and made to kiss the floor and drink water from a toilet bowl .

In the 30-minute video, Austin Hilbourn, who has special needs, is assaulted by four people. SCREENGRAB: LIVELEAK

The attackers also threaten to "throw him in a trunk and brick the gas pedal", and repeatedly curse "white people" and US President-elect Donald Trump.

The video garnered hundreds of comments. The fact that it was streamed live, without censorship, made it all the more viral.

The ordeal lasted about five hours.


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What made matters worse was Hilbourn knew one of the attackers from school and had considered him a friend.

Facebook has since removed the video, but not before it garnered a large number of views.

Copies of the video soon made their way to other video streaming sites, and were widely shared online on sites like LiveLeak.com.

The outrage that ensued spilled over to other social platforms.

Almost instantly, the hashtag #BLMKidnapping started trending on Twitter as mainstream conservative pundits and alt-right movements seized the chance to blame it on the far-left protest movement Black Lives Matter.

Part of the reason for this outrage stemmed from the initial statements from the Chicago police which did not label it a hate crime.

In a tweet, American alt-right social media personality Mike Cernovich said: "If Trump must 'disavow' every random Internet troll, then #BlackLivesMatter must disavow every crime or else they support it. #BLMKidnapping"

"Police: #BLMKidnapping is not a hate crime because it wasn't race motivated. 'F**k white people' not race motivated?" read another tweet by social media commentator Paul Joseph Watson.

Black Lives Matter, which regularly holds protests, campaigns against violence and racism towards black people in America. And its activists have been quick to denounce any correlation between the crime and the movement.

Black Lives Matter Chicago said on its Facebook page that it was "perplexing" that people associated the act with the organisation: "What happened to the young man who was held captive and tortured is terrible and we condemn the violence that was perpetrated against him.

"We've stated time and time again, that we're against all types of harm and violence perpetrated and we've never condoned it."

The latest episode is reminiscent of a video last year, where Facebook user Diamond Reynolds broadcast live the immediate aftermath of a police officer shooting her boyfriend Philando Castile in Minnesota. The officer was eventually charged with manslaughter.

While Ms Reynolds' video brought to light an injustice, the attack on Hilbourn highlighted a darker side of how users with ill intent can leverage on technology to find an instant and substantial audience.

The immediacy of the medium, and the fact that Facebook aggressively promotes live video while it's ongoing, makes it hard for the tech giant to moderate, despite its promises to do so.

Facebook users are able to flag such videos, but the sheer amount of content put out daily means action is often taken too late.

To be fair, Facebook's live feature was never meant to be used for such nefarious ends.

In a bid to showcase how the feature can be used to share great experiences, the tech company regularly highlights notable live videos, such as those recently posted by users on New Year's Eve.

But it can also be argued that were it not for the live function, the latest hate crime might never have come to such prominence as it has had in the past week.

However, the sad fact remains that sometimes, while the technology is meant to spread positive experiences, some people should never be allowed to have access to it.


Wendy’s earned fans for its witty tweets, until it posted a
controversial meme. PHOTO: TWITTER/WENDY’S

American fast-food chain Wendy's has been earning fans this past week for its witty tweets.

One user messaged the official account to say its "food was trash". Wendy's reply? "No, your opinion is though."

In a reply to another user who asked where the nearest McDonald's was, Wendy's replied with a photo of a trash bin.

In another instance, Twitter user Hexic lamented to the chain: "My friends want to go to McDonald's, what should I tell him?"

"Find new friends," came the quick reply.

Wendy’s earned fans for its witty tweets, until it posted acontroversial meme. PHOTO: TWITTER/WENDY’S

The witty replies were widely covered by major news outlets for their hilarity and stark frankness.

A spokesman for the chain said the tweets were done on purpose and the account was not hacked.

Some Twitter users said they would frequent the chain more after reading the "amazing responses".

But not all the tweets went down well. In a response to one user, Wendy's posted an image of Pepe the Frog dressed up as its mascot.

Pepe the Frog is a meme that has been used by the alt-right movement to convey racist and anti-Semitic messages.

The Anti-Defamation League declared it as a hate symbol in September last year.

The tweet was quickly deleted, but not before users took screen grabs of it and made it viral.

Wendy's social media manager told Business Insider the post was not meant to offend anyone.

"Our community manager was unaware of the recent political connotations associated with Pepe memes and it has since been removed," she said.


Imagine an alternate reality where the US President-elect were to tweet in a much different tone, akin to how a "mature, more presidential Trump should tweet".

That's the aim of a parody account PresidentialTrump (@MatureTrumpTwts) that has surfaced in recent months.

It takes Mr Trump's tweets and produces its own version of what his message should be. For example, Mr Trump's disparaging the new season of his reality show The Celebrity Apprentice, which now features host Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got 'swamped' (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine," said Mr Trump. "So much for being a movie star-and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary."

The parody version reads: "In 2 weeks I take the solemn oath of the presidency. So much to do to fulfill the promises I made. Expect fewer tweets as we transition."

The account has so far gathered 46,000 fans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'Horror over live broadcast of hate crime'. Print Edition | Subscribe