Imagine you or your child, spending some down time on the computer, enjoying some viral videos of cute animals and silly people on your Facebook news feed. A few minutes later, a live video stream comes up, and someone you may or may not know is holding a kitten. Seconds later, they do violent things to that kitten that you couldn’t imagine someone would do. It is certainly not what you expected to see, nor is it something you want your child seeing, on social media or otherwise. What do you do?
Turning it off is the first step, for sure. But it won’t stop the action from taking place, nor will it keep others from seeing it. The next step would be to alert Facebook of inappropriate content. However, while that can shut down the user’s access, it is usually done after the fact and doesn’t mean the kitten will be saved in time.
This is just one example of the darker side of live streaming that has caused some massive pushback in recent months.
By March of 2016, Facebook rolled out Facebook Live to all users, and almost immediately we began to see the advantages and disadvantages. Facebook Live can be a fun way to communicate a special event or include friends who may not be located in the same place, and it can certainly be used by businesses or celebrities to promote a new product, or share the more intimate moments of their lives.
For example, Villalobos Rescue Center, the group behind Animal Planet’s Pit Bulls and Parolees, uses Facebook Live as a platform to show what really goes on when they are not in front of the camera for the show. Daily rescues, stories on new additions to the dog roster, and what Tia (Torres, founder of VRC) handles on a daily basis can be quite entertaining, especially when they involve Jethro, Tia’s adorably crazy Bluetick Hound.
Unfortunately, Facebook Live has also been used during actual crimes, showing a disabled man being tortured in Chicago, a double murder in the name of ISIS in France, and most recently, the murder of an 11-month old girl by her father in Thailand. That last incident’s video stayed online for over 24 hours before being pulled by Facebook.
In response, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to hire 3,000 more people to help review content. This is in addition to the 4,500 employees who already review content, making it a 67% increase to help combat the problem. He has also announced they will make it easier for users to report problems in order to more quickly determine and act upon violations.
While this is a major hurdle for Facebook, there are also many other stories that might have ended badly if it weren’t for Facebook Live. In early May, a Georgia teen live streamed her suicide, and the feed was kept up long enough for friends to identify her and police to find her. She is currently recovering, and while it might be a long, hard journey, at least it’s one she can take. In April, there was another suicide attempt whereby keeping the feed going allowed authorities to communicate with that person and stop any further action.
Using Facebook Live to help those in need is an unintended aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to reviewing content. Facebook is testing new algorithms that identify posts expressing thoughts of suicide in order to offer resources to that user before anyone has reported it, potentially stopping negative acts before they are ever entertained.
So what do we do right now? We know censorship is not the way to go, and Facebook has explicitly said they do not want to act as a censor. Live streaming video is popular because it isn’t filtered or edited, and because of this, we must rely on humans to review and administer on a case-by-case scenario. This allows for some to fall through the cracks, but unless we go the way of China and enact extreme censorship policies, it’s what we will have to deal with.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and a free Internet allow for the social media world we currently experience, and it’s up to each individual user to regulate their own posts and usage while reporting content that violates the rules. As history has shown, allowing true depictions of the world we live in can serve an important purpose, hopefully keeping certain moments in history from being repeated.
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The Blink;Tech Team