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Autoplaying video of journalists’ murders gives Facebook, Twitter users pause

Social media users unwillingly witnessed video of the murders of two television journalists yesterday, due to a default feature on Facebook and Twitter that plays videos automatically. Here's how to turn "autoplay" off.

Graphic video autoplayNews of the shocking and horrific murders of two television journalists during a live broadcast rapidly spread across social media platforms yesterday.

The two journalists from WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, were shot and killed by a former colleague as they filmed an interview for the TV station’s morning news program.

The shooter later killed himself, but not before he posted a video of the murders to his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Although both Facebook and Twitter quickly removed the shooter’s accounts and took the video down, it had already been shared hundreds of times.

It might be difficult to understand why anyone would willingly watch – or share – such a graphic video.

But many users saw the video unwillingly, due to settings on Twitter and Facebook that play videos automatically as you scroll past them in your news feed (the feature is appropriately called autoplay).

Almost immediately, bloggers, media outlets and social media users began sharing instructions on how to turn off autoplay, which Facebook and Twitter enable by default.

Video autoplay was introduced by Facebook in December 2013, and in June 2015 by Twitter – and despite this horrific example of how autoplay can go terribly wrong, it looks like it’s here to stay.

As Digiday’s Eric Blattberg noted in a story last April, autoplaying videos may be annoying and intrusive from a consumer perspective, but they’re really effective for advertisers.

Facebook has seen video views on the platform jump dramatically in the past year, to four billion views a day, because of it.

Advertisers really like autoplay for increasing views, and Facebook really likes advertisers – so it appears that “autoplay video won,” Blattberg wrote.

Twitter product manager David Regan touted the feature in a blog post introducing autoplay, saying extensive testing of autoplay proved its value to both users and advertisers:

During our extensive tests of autoplay, we saw that users liked this new approach - and it generated more views and engagements for advertisers.

When autoplay was introduced to Twitter (and Vine) users in June, it was turned on by default – but even those who turned off autoplay found that it had mysteriously been turned back on a short time later (Twitter said the autoplay setting was turned back on by a buggy software update).

Some advertisers have claimed that autoplaying videos are actually less intrusive, because they typically begin playing with the sound off, and you have to click on the video to turn the audio on.

However, social media platforms are trying to figure out how to get you to watch more videos, whether you want to or not.

Facebook has been experimenting with looping videos in continuous autoplay; while YouTube has its own Autoplay feature that shows an “Up next” list while you’re watching a video, and automatically plays the video at the top of the list if you don’t choose otherwise after the current video finishes.

Autoplay might be a convenient way to consume video, but once you’ve seen a graphic video that you didn’t want to watch, you can’t unsee it – and that has potentially traumatic effects.

Video autoplay can also rack up your bandwidth costs: in fact, to turn autoplay off on Instagram, you actually turn on the “use less data” option.

How to turn off autoplay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

On Facebook for the web, turn off autoplay by going to the dropdown menu in the upper right corner of the page:

  • click Settings
  • click on Videos in the menu to the left
  • next to Auto-Play Videos, click the box that says Default and select Off

On the Facebook mobile app for Android:

  • open the Facebook app
  • tap the menu
  • scroll down to Help & Settings
  • tap App Settings
  • tap Videos play automatically
  • select Off

On the Facebook mobile app for iOS:

  • Go to your iPhone or iPad’s settings
  • scroll down and tap Facebook
  • tap Settings
  • below Video, tap Auto-play
  • select Off

On the Twitter mobile app, go to your settings.

  • tap General
  • tap Video autoplay
  • select Never play videos automatically

On, click your profile icon.

  • select Settings then Accounts
  • scroll down to Content
  • next to Video tweets uncheck the box for Video autoplay

On Instagram, you can turn off autoplay by going to the app settings in the upper right of your profile, then:

  • tap Cellular Data Use
  • select Use Less Data

Image of shocked man looking at iPhone courtesy of


Why is it so “difficult to understand why anyone would willingly watch” a video like that? Would hiding your head in the sand somehow be more beneficial?

Everyone should watch this, and take a moment to consider how they would respond if they found themselves in such a situation, either as potential victim or as someone who happened onto the scene. Being alert to what’s going on around you is called situational awareness, and it saves lives.


Being aware of your surroundings when out and about is one thing……….innocently accessing Facebook to see a photo from a young granddaughter, etc and viewing a horrific unsolicited violent act is quite another.

If I wish to watch graphic news it should be a choice and not foisted on people. Sometimes things are remembered for far too long and once the image has been seen it can be hard to forget.

Thanks for the detailed instructions for opting out. Well done for this article..


I didn’t see the video on autoplay, and I chose not to seek it out to intentionally watch it. It should be a choice. My choice reflects my feeling that watching the video disrespects the dead.


I am disgusted that people are more concerned about seeing the killings than that they are happening.


I don’t see what made you conclude that they are “more concerned about seeing the killings than that they are happening”. (And I don’t think the comparison is a useful one, anyway.)

Try this experiment with the article headline and see where you get – mentally substitute the words “video of journalists’ murders” with “child abuse images.”


Tried to disable autoplay, but no “video” in menu on the left.


If you’re talking about on, yeah, it’s not easy to find.

After you click the icon that looks like a down-arrow in the upper right corner of the page, you get a dropdown menu.

Go down to Settings. Then a menu opens on the left.

Videos is all the way down at the bottom of the list.


Another consequence of their moving to auto-play without having adequate oversight on the video content, which up until now has been more of an issue of people stealing and posting other people’s videos.

“Facebook has seen video views on the platform jump dramatically in the past year, to four billion views a day, because of it.”
They count a second(?) of playtime as a view. No doubt autoplay has helped multiply this counter from it’s legitimate value.


As a sidenote, that autoplay also sucks data like none other so I keep mine turned off anyway!


As mentioned in the article, to turn off autoplay on Instagram, you actually turn on the “use less data” option :-)


Paul, does turning on the “use less data” option cause you to use more data as well?

If so, I imagine it would be the lesser of the two evils.


I presume that turning off video autoplay is one of the ways in which Instagram tries to use less data. In other words, instead of incidentally saving data by not seeing videos you don’t want, you incidentally don’t see videos you don’t want by saving data.

(That’s a guess. I’ve never quite felt the need for Instagram, can’t think why :-)


FaceBook settings on my ios (iphone 6 plus) does not have the option of turning off autoplay. There is nothing under videos except “Upload HD” on off. And videos play automatically. WTF?


Why would advertisers want fake views? want there not want real views from users that want to watch the video?


I guess they aren’t strictly “fake views” if they show up in a real user’s real browser. So the ad seller gets to charge for them, and to persuade the ad buyer that they were worth the money because at least some of the people who see them end up influenced anyway, and so on. (I’m not saying I’m convinced by that…just that a lot of advertising is about simply putting your message where people will see it – think billboards – and letting the power of repetition/suggestion/funkiness/hey-I-never-knew-that do the rest.)


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