Video footage of the fatal shootings of a TV reporter and cameraman in Virginia that showed up on social media Wednesday morning shocked users of Twitter and Facebook when the “autoplay” function showed them what they didn’t want to see.
The shootings happened on live TV at 7:45 a.m. as WDBJ in Roanoke, Va., was doing a morning feature story on tourism. A gunman killed reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, and wounded Chamber of Commerce official Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed.
Ward was shot first. But his camera continued to roll after he fell, capturing the sound of Parker and Gardner screaming as they ran away and were shot.
The video clip of that live broadcast shot out across the Internet. CNN showed the clip but shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday announced that it would not be shown again.
Authorities said the suspected gunman, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan, died at the hospital after shooting himself while fleeing from police.
According to Mashable, many major media outlets published stories that linked to or embedded the original video. When the video was put into the native players on Facebook and Twitter, viewers saw it whether they wanted to or not because of the recently added autoplay function, Mashable reports.
Other videos of the killings taken from the gunman’s perspective – one shows him firing the deadly shots at point-blank range – were posted on Facebook and Twitter under the name Bryce Williams, also known as Vester Lee Flanagan.
Twitter and Facebook almost immediately suspended his accounts.
One of the graphic videos had been retweeted more than 800 times by midmorning Wednesday, according to Mashable. It was also posted to Facebook, where it was shared nearly 400 times before the account was taken down.
TMZ, never afraid to show controversial or violent footage, enraged many of its users by posting the gunman’s point-of-view video. The website later disabled it.
The use of the video footage ignited immediate debate all over social media.
Some users shared instructions for disabling the autoplay function on their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
News outlets that broadcast the video did so with warnings. The New York Times, for instance, linked to the video in its main story, noting that it was “disturbing.”
“We decided to link to the video rather than embed it on our site as a way of giving our readers the option of viewing it — with a warning about its sensitive nature — rather than forcing a disturbing video on anyone who came to our site,” a Times deputy editor told Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple.
Jeffrey Marks, the general manager of WDBJ, told viewers that it would not replay the sad footage.
“We are choosing not to run the video of that right now because, frankly, we don’t need to see it again, and our staff doesn’t need to see it again,” he said.