Live streaming may be too big a risk

by Editorial Desk

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Murders broadcast live on Facebook, one after another, suggest that, for the disturbed, an immediate audience is too great a lure.

Gruesome, barely fathomable, the four-minute live video a 21-year-old father, angry over his wife leaving him, posted on Facebook on Monday – showing him killing his 11-month-old daughter and then himself in a deserted Phuket building – has intensified concerns about the abuse of the social media. The young man was seen sitting with the baby girl on the rooftop of the empty multistorey building, tying a knot around her neck and then hanging her from the edge of the roof as she cried.

Among the many shocked viewers was the infant’s mother, who immediately called the authorities, but too late to prevent a gut-wrenching tragedy. We can only imagine the torment that she and other relatives of the victims are undergoing.

It was the second time in as many weeks that a murder was “broadcast” live on Facebook, after a man in the US city of Cleveland used the social platform’s live app on April 16 to post video of him shooting dead a random passer-by. The 74-year-old grandfather was on his way home from an Easter meal with his family. The uproar that ensued forced Facebook to respond.

“We have a lot of work to do and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said at a company conference. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends.”

Family, friends and every user of Facebook who inadvertently came across the live feed, found the post later, still in place, or saw it re-broadcast on other media deserve a bigger commitment than that to fixing this problem. It’s been noted that YouTube (alerted by the BBC) deleted the Thai video within 15 minutes of its posting there, while Facebook took a full 24 hours to remove it.

Facebook has clear rules against posting violent content and has thousands of people under contract reviewing posts for offensive or legally actionable material. That is no small undertaking given that there are 1.86 billion active users. It also has a team whose sole duty is to monitor live feeds. While the network cannot be expected to block such videos instantaneously, there is still the question of why the Phuket video remained on the site for so long. 

It’s tempting but unfair to place all the blame on Facebook in the wake of the Cleveland and Phuket incidents. For all of its extensive monitoring resources, though, it falls to the online community to do its part and be active in preventing or at least minimising posts by disturbed people and dangerous attention-seekers. The freedom to surf we enjoy comes with grave responsibility.

Also, once again serving as accomplices in the crime of perpetuating tragedy, several mainstream news outlets share in the guilt over the Phuket incident. One television station, heedless of ethical standards in the industry, was sharply and rightfully criticised for replaying the murder clip, even if the faces were blurred. The unmodified sound of the baby crying made the station’s decision all the more ghastly. 

There are no regulations guiding live video streams by individuals on the social media. Facebook, YouTube and the rest rely on automated technology and user reports to catch objectionable material before determining whether terms of service have been violated. 

It would be a shame if Facebook Live had to be abandoned. It affords millions of people the chance to share their special moments with immediacy and be in direct touch with friends and family. But if that very immediacy can be so readily abused and at the same time so difficult to control, Facebook and its online community might have to accept that live streaming is too risky.