A Call for Facebook Live to go Dark

If you have not heard by now, Facebook Live has faced heavy scrutiny over recent months after violent crimes ranging from torture to point-blank murder have been streamed over the service. With Facebook’s clear lack of governance over Facebook Live, is it finally time for the company to shut it down? Is the product worth the risk of tens of thousands users seeing someone’s family member shot dead on the streets?

What is Facebook Live?

This feature was unveiled in the second half of 2015 as Facebook aiming to compete with other live streaming platforms including Periscope and Meerkat. Facebook Live allows users to stream from their Facebook profile and the video will appear on the News Feed of friends and followers alike. This is a great option for companies and brands to provide live video to followers in an efficient, cheap, and effective way.

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The feature also gives an abundance of freedom to Facebook users who choose utilize the service. It is not delayed and monitored as closely as live TV is. For example, many live events on TV including sporting events are on a few second delay. That way, the Federal Communications Commission as well as the TV network can closely supervise what is going on live TV and ensure there is no violent activity, obscene gestures or words, or nudity. On Facebook Live, there are so many users streaming content that unless someone flags a video as inappropriate, it could take hours or even days for the video to come down.

Incidents

One of the more notable incidents occurred this past Easter Sunday, April 16, 2016. A 37-year-old man from Cleveland, Ohio pulled up to 74-year-old Robert Godwin on the streets in Cleveland and shot him dead. After this video was posted to Facebook, the 37-year-old murderer went on a Facebook Live rant in which he tells his ex and his mother to call him or else he will continue his rampage. It took Facebook 3 hours to remove the video from the killer’s Facebook.

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In the beginning of this year, a disturbing video emerged of a mentally challenged man being tortured and beaten on Facebook Live in Chicago by four individuals who would later be taken into custody under kidnapping and hate crime charges. It took Facebook 30 minutes to take down the video that sixteen thousand people were able to view.

In January, both a 14-year-old girl in a Florida foster home as well as a 33-year-old actor on the streets of Los Angeles took their own lives while streaming the acts on Facebook Live. These are not the only instances of this occurring and a result, Facebook has set up a suicide prevention tool via Facebook Messenger which provides live-chat support from organizations including the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Is the Facebook Live Platform Worth the Trouble?

No.

What started out as a Facebook product used to do fun things like stream a child’s first steps or show funny actions one’s pet does has turned into a nightmare for the social media giant. Who would have thought that people would be so cruel as to try and show the world the violent actions they choose to make? From an outside perspective, the negatives certainly outweigh the positives.

What if Robert Godwin was your grandfather or your father that had been gunned down in Cleveland? Is it fair to Robert Godwin’s family that he was treated inhumanely and ruthlessly killed on video, only to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people across the Internet? His grieving family deserves better and it is time for Facebook to step up and take responsibility for providing the platform for this content to be seen worldwide.

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How about the disabled teenager who was tortured on Facebook Live? Does he or his family deserve for people to see that on such a widely used platform? My guess is most of you would say no.

With Facebook’s lack of care and empathy towards the responsibility it takes to monitor Facebook Live on their platform, Facebook has shown its inability to run the service in a professional manner. Although they are working on artificial intelligence tools that will automatically take videos down that appear too graphic or too violent, the company should take Facebook Live down until they have demonstrated the power to monitor the product with the care its’ users deserve. Does my 14 year-old nephew need to see a violent killer take someone’s innocent life when they go to check their Facebook News Feed? Does anyone? It is not fair to Robert Godwin’s family nor is it fair to Facebook’s user base who utilizes the site to maintain contact with friends and family.

Right now, Facebook relies on users to report a video as inappropriate in order to take a video down. This process is outdated and the responsibility should fall on the company, not the users to ensure content is provided appropriately.

When addressing the media today, Mark Zuckerberg went on to talk about the killing that took place on Facebook Live on Monday by saying:

“We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”

You’re right, Mark. You do have a lot of work to do and you may be in over your head on this one.

Your first step should be to take Facebook Live down.

9 comments

  1. Great topic, Dan! I watched the beginning of the video before realizing what exactly it was – and immediately shut it off. To be able to see someone in their final moments realize what was happening was horrifying to me – and very troubling. His family should not have to see that video, nor should anyone. Facebook’s first mistake was letting it be on FB Live, and it’s second (and potentially larger) mistake is still allowing the video to be shared. If FB can’t figure out a way to better monitor live soon, then I agree it needs to be discontinued.

  2. Really interesting topic! I think definitely worth class discussion because I’m sure there are several opinions but as for me I agree with you, it is not worth the disarray it causes. Monitoring what goes up is half of what makes these platforms “safe” for users, and granted live is fun sometimes and useful in political/judicial circumstances like the one mentioned in class during a presentation about Shailine Woodley and the Dakota Pipeline, but sometimes cons outweighs the pros.

  3. I appreciated you taking a stance in this post, Dan. I would say there’s no question that to some varying degree access to live Facebook plays a motivational role for these crimes. I agree with @geraldckane‘s point that Facebook has done a remarkably well job at adapting to negative use of the platform in the past decade, but i think this will be a new battle. I think it would be in Facebook’s best interest to take it down until they have it under control – they’ll be fine with stories in the meantime.

  4. I completely agree with your point of view in this post. Unfortunately, many users take advantage of this feature for the wrong reasons. The live video feature is too powerful to be made available to everybody. May Facebook should opt for approving the accounts that may have access to the feature. They could even establish an application system where the account requests permission to use live stream in the near future and expresses the reason why they should be enabled to use the service. In this sense, media influencers and TV shows would be able to post live videos, but criminals would not be able to show their monstrous acts to the general public.

  5. I think you have a great opinion on the whole matter. I worry that the spread of this video will act as a precedent to similar crimes. We’ve seen mass shootings and terrible crimes come from the insane that have a desire for fame. It is scary to think that the ability to make a scene so visible to the internet is at practically anyone’s fingertips. SM members will be crucial moving forward to find a way to prevent such cruelties and I hope this is a discussion we have later on in class today.

  6. I think you nailed it on the head here. Personally, I never liked Facebook live because I never really understood the point of live streaming. But the lack of surveillance has really become an issue, and I think the only reasonable solution is to go dark, while they either address the issues or permanently end the feature.

  7. Nice post Dan. I definitely appreciate your opinion here and your research on the topic is clear. I don’t think Facebook is going to end their Live feature, although I don’t like see the draw of it, but they definitely need a huge overhaul of their current system. I wonder about the capabilities of Facebook to censor Facebook Live on a delay like TV is delayed and I really don’t think it’s possible. In that sense, I think Facebook has to drastically rethink the feature and I think it spans well beyond Facebook and other social media platforms with similar features have to be just as vigilant about these clearly tragic scenarios. On different note, I completely agree with one of the pictures you shared about making this about the man whose life was taken and to stop giving this criminal notoriety which happens far too often on social media. I have not and will never watch that video and I hope that any reposting of this video stops.

  8. Does it make a significant difference if someone posts something on facebook live or on youtube? To me, it doesn’t really matter if it is streamed live or posted later. As we’ve discussed in class, once it is on the internet, it’s out there forever. I think this was focused on because it is the first time we have seen it on a new technological platform. It stokes people’s fears about where we are heading with all of these tech advances. I think it speaks much more to society’s collective morality as people repeatedly shared and viewed the content later (remember, facebook live only shares things with our friends so the only reason this thing reached so many people is because people chose to share it). I do think there are some things facebook could do to help combat crime, but people may not like it and they could infringe upon civil liberties. You could argue they could use geolocation services combined with an emergency alert feature that allows people to report a potential crime that is posted on live and can tell police exactly where the crime is occurring. However, even if that were the case it only would have shortened the manhunt as it would still have been too late to help this innocent victim. As Prof. Kane mentioned in class, if nothing else the documentation created in these incidents provide valuable evidence and unless we see evidence to suggest social media has increased rates of violent crime, these crimes would happen either way.

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