Facebook Live: Friend or Foe?
By the time you read this, there's a good chance someone else's death was broadcast live on Facebook. Of these deaths, Mark Zuckerberg - the 21st century's most famous Wunderkind - will probably say that Facebook is doing everything it can to prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future. He said just that at Facebook's April conference:
"We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,"
The point of Facebook Live, according to Zuckerberg - and, by extension, Facebook - is a "raw, emotional, visceral way to share and connect..." Watching people suffering breakdowns and murdering people LIVE is certainly emotional and visceral, but is it good for society? Is Facebook Live a friend or a foe?
- Free to use
- Easy to use
- Helps people connect
- Free to use: Facebook is - and has always been - free to use. The platform began experimenting with ads in the form of "sponsored stories" in early 2012. Users currently see ads embedded in their "feeds". Advertising comprises most of the company's revenue. The ad-supported model works, and the company appears to have no plans to charge.
- Easy to use: Starting a live feed takes three simple steps. Presumably, anyone who can post on Facebook can start a live video from either their computer or phone.
- Helps people connect: At nearly 1.86 billion users (aka 1/4 of Earth's population), Facebook is the largest social network in the world. If you want to connect with the greatest number of people possible, Facebook is probably the cheapest and most effective way to do it.
- No preventative measures in place
- Violent content may encourage copycats
- Violent content negatively impacts children
- No preventative measures in place: Literally anyone with a Facebook account and a camera can "go live". There are no barriers to use, so anyone can post anything at ANY TIME. The possibilities are endless. (And perhaps that's the problem.)
- Violent content may encourage copycats: Monkey see, monkey do? The answer is an overwhelming yes. Social scientists contend "that highly publicized stories of deviant and dangerous behavior influences [sic] copycat incidents."
- Violent content negatively impacts children: Hand-waving and fear-mongering aside, exposure to violent media "can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” Children (and other vulnerable individuals) use Facebook every day; the minimum age for a profile is 13. It's naive to think that children aren't also viewing these violent live streams (or reading news stories about them).
Recent* Facebook Live Deaths
(*Not a comprehensive list)
- August 24, 2017: An unidentified man in Mashpee, MA hung himself.
- June 19, 2017:
"Aspiring YouTube star" Pedro Ruiz was shot in the chest by his girlfriend. His death is believed to be accidental.
- May 13, 2017:
A 33 year old musician set himself on fire in front of his ex-girlfriend's bar. He "broadcast the moment he set himself alight".
- April 26, 2017: An Alabama man live streamed his suicide.
- April 25, 2017: An 11 month old baby was killed by her 20 year old father in Thailand. He then killed himself.
- April 16, 2017: A 74 year old man was killed by a stranger who live streamed it.
- January 25, 2017: A 14 year old girl from Miami live streamed her suicide.
- January 23, 2017: An aspiring actor died after shooting himself.
- October 11, 2016: A young Turkish man committed suicide after expressing his devastation over a breakup.
Was the writing on the wall with Justin.tv?
In a now prescient article, gigaom.com author Liz Gannes reported on the death of 19 year old Abraham Biggs. Abraham, aka CandyJunkie, committed suicide by ingesting pills. He did so live on Justin.tv. Gannes asks "...what could sites like Justin.tv possibly do to prevent live-streamed snuff films?"
Despite nearly a decade of innovation (and hopefully research), preventative measures are few and far between. Live stream technology - and social media in general - has the power to connect us. It also has the power to harm us, starting with the most vulnerable and impressionable of our society: our children.