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The challenge that live streaming of suicides poses for Facebook

A 32-year-old man in Sonepat live streamed his suicide on his Facebook page on Sunday, PTI reports. The incident follows the death of a student who live-streamed his suicide from Mumbai on Facebook earlier this month. In Cleveland in the US, on Sunday, a 74-year-old was shot to dead live on Facebook, with the killer live streaming the shooting.

In the past two years, since Facebook made live streaming possible for all the users, countless incidents of suicides being live streamed have come to fore. The growth in video consumption, and the availability of live streaming comes with a dark side: In the past, there have been incidents of gruesome violence, rapes, killings and suicides that have been live streamed on the platform.

Shifting the policing to users

The problem for Facebook is that with the ability to live stream now, anyone with a smartphone is now a broadcaster, and it is impossible to manage millions of live streams, unlike in case of TV. Additionally, with Facebook’s algorithms favouring live videos, every user on the platform has a huge captive audience. It’s facing a similar problem in case of Fake News, and even there, it projects itself as a neutral content carrier and refuses to play the role of a gatekeeper.

The way that Facebook is dealing with this is to shift the policing to users: In case of videos, in March, it added added tools to live videos to prevent suicides, including enabling users watching a live video to reach out to the person directly, report the video to Facebook and the ability to contact a help line immediately.

The problem is that the company takes upto 24hrs to respond to such reports. Within such a time frame graphic videos and rumours can be viewed, saved and shared millions of times. There is little Facebook can do with its ideals of keeping the platform open, especially, because there is little time to react to a live video.

On Monday, Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s VP global operations, wrote in a blog post that Facebook is reviewing its reporting flows and reviewing its reporting process.

Why Facebook wants live video

Facebook has warned its investors that user engagement and revenue will decline in 2017 as the social platform has peaked ad-load–the number of ads a user can be shown before ruining the user experience. To offset those loses, Facebook is betting big on videos and video advertising revenue that it expects will follow. In fact, with its push for Snapchat like camera features, the company is hoping to replace keyboards with camera as input and content creation tool.

Live video helps: Facebook launched the ability to live stream videos on its mobile app last year. Five months after it was rolled out, the company claimed live video consumption grew 400% on the platform. Earlier this year, Facebook made public plans of developing an app for television set-top boxes, the Wall Street Journal reported. In March this year, it extended the feature to desktop computers.

Regulation and safe harbour

The problem is that with time, and with an increase in incidents, regulators will step in: the more the instances of shocking and explicit video content being streamed live, the more the pressure from courts and governments to get Facebook to prevent live-streaming. Beyond a point, Facebook may not be able to retain its safe harbour from Intermediary Liability: it’s only a matter of time.


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