The Dark Side of Facebook Live

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n April 2016, Mark Zuckerberg launched free access to Facebook Live. Each user of the social network had the opportunity to broadcast their events, sharing important moments with friends. At least that’s how the company’s management pictured how this service would work, but for some reason, Facebook Live ended up opening the way for prohibited video content. Today, Facebook Live faces criticism for direct broadcasts of violent scenes and criminal activity. And the leadership of the social network cannot seem to stop the wave of controversial videos.

A New Way of Communication

This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it’s going to create new opportunities for people to come together,said Zuckerberg in April 2016. Then, the function of Facebook Live was made available to only a small number of users. Large investments in the development of Facebook Live confirmed Zuckerberg’s desire to conquer the world of video broadcasts and to surpass Periscope. By December 2016, 1.23 billion people were watching and holding live broadcasts just for the opportunity to talk and have fun with friends.

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Sometimes the service is used for more important or even entertainment purposes. One day Zuckerberg stumbled upon a girl broadcasting her wedding for a disabled mom who could not attend the event. Another example is the video broadcast of the explosion of a watermelon with the help of… office rubber bands! Over 800,000 people followed the process.

But recent events show that people use Facebook Live not only for entertainment and communication.

January 2017: Beating in Chicago and Rape in Sweden

In early January 2017, in Chicago, a 24-year-old and three 18-year-old African Americans attacked their classmate. One of the attackers took out his phone and launched Facebook Live. He pointed the camera at a battered young victim and demanded him to insult Donald Trump on the air. The attackers asked viewers to share and distribute the video and claimed that they wanted to make it go viral. They achieved this. About 16,000 people watched the broadcast of the incident, but subsequent publications were distributed among the leading American media and video hosting. Facebook management deleted the video only the day after the broadcast. By this time, someone uploaded the video onto YouTube. Fortunately, YouTube’s administration removed the video in about 15 minutes.

On January 21, 2017, several men broadcasted the rape of a 30-year-old female resident of the Swedish city of Uppsala. A 21-year-old Swedish witness reported on what was happening to the police. The police reacted to the call and soon detained two Afghan citizens and one Swedish citizen of Iraqi origin. The offenders were between 18 and 24 years of age. In court, they did not admit guilt in the rape. The judge sentenced the two immigrants from Afghanistan to 2.5 years in prison.

March 2017: Suicide in Florida

The story of the 14-year-old resident of Florida, Naika Venant occurred in late January, but it became known only on March 14, 2017. On January 22, Venant turned on a live broadcast of Facebook Live. She communicated with the audience for about an hour, and then hung herself in the shower. Arriving employees could not help the girl. The Facebook administration deleted the video almost immediately. Due to this, the incident did not receive a wide resonance.

April 2017: Murder Followed by Suicide in the US

On April 16, 37-year-old Cleveland resident Steve Stephens got out of his car and said in the camera that he is going to kill someone. The random victim was 74-year-old Robert Godwin. Stephens asked the man to pronounce the name Joy Lane, then took out a gun and fired at Godwin. The ambulance could not help the man.

Stephens uploaded a video of the murder on Facebook, and soon it made the round on the Internet. Later the same man turned on Facebook Live from a car and said that he had killed 15 people. Stephens advised viewers to look for the bodies in an abandoned house.

During the stream, the offender admitted that he had decided on the crime because of his ex-girlfriend, Joy Lane. He wanted to show her his abilities. Steve successfully hid from the police for almost two days – until he decided to call in for food at McDonald’s in Erie County, Pennsylvania. The cashier recognized the man and called the police. They arrived and soon after the patrol caught up with the killer’s car and pushed it off the road with a side impact. The man shot himself. The Facebook administration relatively quickly found and removed the video of Godwin’s murder.

Facebook’s Plans to Combat Unwanted Video Content

The day after the suicide of Steve Stephens in Pennsylvania, Mark Zuckerberg said the company would attempt to stop the distribution of videos on the social network if they propagate or endorse cruelty and crimes. The head of Facebook also noticed the social network is working on a service that can automatically screen out unwanted videos, but he specified that the development is at an early stage.

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On average, management deletes Facebook Live records the day after publication, when they are already dispersed in various video hosting sites, including YouTube. Such unevenness of the work of the world’s leading resources causes discontent as each new tragedy occurs. Critics say Facebook Live is a dangerous service due to their failure in filtering out prohibited content and distributing live records of violent crimes. After the publication of the video with the shooting in Cleveland of Robert Godwin, his grandson Ryan asked everyone to refrain from distributing the video, urging people to respect the memory of the deceased.

However, in addition to videos with criminals or suicides, Facebook Live often has videos where broadcasters become eyewitnesses of the shooting of accidents. The administration does not delete such content, explaining this by the fact that it does not contain calls for crimes but only their coverage.

One More Issue for Facebook Live

April 19, 2017, BuzzFeed journalist Mat Honan released a critical article about the situation with Facebook Live and the social network as a whole. He said that an hour after the suicide of Steve Stephens, Zuckerberg held a conference where he joked with the audience as if nothing had happened.

According to the journalist, the company was too quick with the release of its streaming service. It did not take into account the fact that many people are incapable of understanding the concept of the unified world. In pursuit of the idea of a bright future, the company has created a service that does not do enough to keep out disturbing content from going viral.

1.86 billion people use Facebook monthly, of which 1.74 billion use mobile devices and Facebook Live as well. This significantly complicates the search and analysis of unwanted content on the social network. The company does not have as many people to monitor all streams. Automatic programs cannot solve the problem. So far, the main assistant of the service are users who mark unwanted content. However, as practice shows, this is a shaky system.

Despite the controversy that has been developing around Facebook Live since the beginning of 2017, Zuckerberg did not stop considering video broadcasting as a promising type of communication. This service brings the company a solid income and, according to Zuckerberg, really rebuilds the culture of human communication forever. If the company does not find a way to control its content quickly, unbalanced users will use the social network that ignores all ethical barriers.

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