Does Facebook have a responsibility to censor live broadcasts?

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July 13, 2016 by Paul Dughi

Untitled-1Facebook is in the center of a controversy.  What role should the social media company play in showing violence live while it happens?

I’m sure the company would prefer to sit on the sidelines.  They’re a social network where friends share what’s happening in their lives, but they keep getting pushed into the news arena. When you have something that half the population in the country can access, you have a responsibility to do the right thing whether you want to or not.

It’s certainly a new age problem.  Now that everyone can broadcast live to the world, it’s not just the good stuff that happens that’s being broadcast.

I remember when Periscope first started letting people broadcast.  My first broadcast consisted of a nice shot of my fire pit – which got hundreds of views and some fun comments.  Within days, it seemed, the only people using it were teenage girls in their rooms.  It was too creepy for me and so I gave it up.  But Facebook Live has taken live broadcasts and put it on display for the world.  As we all know, bad stuff happens in the world.  Now it’s happening on Facebook and it’s unfiltered.  In just the last week or so, we’ve seen graphic evidence:

  • The sniper fire in downtown Dallas put Michael Kevin Bautista in the middle of the action when he streamed the gunshots live on Facebook as it was happening.
  • Philando Castile was shot by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with Castile, streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live.
  • Now, three more men were in their car streaming live video when they were shot – maybe as many as 30 times.  They have life-threatening injuries according to the NY Times.  Here’s the video if you really want to watch it.

We are only going to see more of this.

Seeing it happen makes a difference in how we think about it

I’ve always thought it interesting that people react differently when they see something play out on video.  Domestic violence is horrible.  It happens way too often.  But when the video of the NFL’s Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée in an elevator was captured on video and shown, people treated it much more seriously than other cases.

There have been incidents of bad behavior by police officers before, but seeing the video of the Rodney King beating left an indelible mark.

Now, we’re seeing some of it happen in real-time, unfiltered.  It puts Facebook and other companies allowing anyone to stream live in a difficult situation. It’s not possible for someone to monitor every live stream and make a judgment on whether it’s appropriate.  Even if that was possible, some of the videos look just fine – friends hanging out – until violence occurs.  By the time anyone could shut it down, it’s too late.

It could also put social media in the uncomfortable position of censoring the information. Would you rather see it unfiltered or censored?

Still, anybody can access Facebook live if they’re part of the FB community.  While Facebook isn’t designed for young children, we all now youngsters are playing games on their parents’ phones.  If the alert pops up, they can see the video.

Where is the line drawn and who draws the line on what’s appropriate?  Do we even want Facebook to filter what we see?    I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

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