Complete Overreaction: Professor Calls For Shutting Down Facebook Live, Post-Christchurch

from the take-a-deep-breath dept

It is generally a bad idea to make any massive change in the wake of a tragedy. It is certainly reasonable to explore and discuss some of these ideas, but the temptation to overreact to an emotional sample size of one is often too great, leading to very silly outcomes. Take, for example, a suggestion by professor Jennifer Grygiel, in the wake of the awful attack in Christchurch, New Zealand a few weeks back. As with other “blame the tech” attempts, her focus is less on the speed with which the platforms removed content, but more with the fact that live-streaming is even available at all. Her proposal? No more live-streaming at all.

Grygiel at first repeats an earlier argument she made that all live-streaming must be put on “time delay” for censors to review. She notes that she first pushed this idea a few years ago, in the wake of another “streamed live” attack.

In the wake of Godwin?s murder, I recommended that Facebook Live broadcasts be time-delayed, at least for Facebook users who had told the company they were under 18. That way, adult users would have an opportunity to flag inappropriate content before children were exposed to it. Facebook Live has broadcast killings, as well as other serious crimes such as sexual assault, torture, and child abuse. Though the company has hired more than 3,000 additional human content moderators, Facebook has not gotten any better at keeping horrifying violence from streaming live without any filter or warning for users.

But, wait, you say: how does this work? Apparently the idea is that adults are allowed but kids are magically put on time delay. Well, now we’ve massively scaled back the proposal such that a very small percentage of the userbase is effected (which, is certainly better, but…). Of course, there’s no indication that the problem of streaming these videos live was that any kids watched them. Indeed, I’ve heard no such reports.

So this “time delay” plan wouldn’t have stopped nearly all of the people who did see the video.

Second, this whole plan assumes that (a) the only reason these attacks occurred was because of the ability to live-stream, and (b) that there aren’t other live-streaming options out there (there are many). It also ignores that even if “adults” were able to view the content first, there’s no indication that they would report it. Indeed, Facebook noted that less than 200 people viewed the initial live-stream, and no one reported it. So, that would mean that this video still would have gone out to anyone after the “time delay” even if Grygiel’s plan was in place.

Facebook relies on users as moderators, and most livestreams don?t have as large an audience as TV, so its delay would need to be longer ? perhaps a few minutes. Only then would enough adult users have screened it and had the opportunity to report its content. Major users, including publishers and corporations, could be permitted to livestream directly after completing a training course. Facebook could even let people request a company moderator for upcoming livestreams.

Except, again, no one reported the original video, so nothing would have changed with this plan. And lots of recent mass killings and attacks weren’t live-streamed by the killers (in fact, most are not). This plan seems to be taking a side issue (live-streaming) with the real issue: a very terrible, sick person decided to kill a huge crowd of people for terrible reasons. For what it’s worth, Grygiel also seems somewhat confused about the legal aspects of all of this:

Facebook has not yet taken this relatively simple step, and the reason is clear. Time delays took hold in TV only because broadcasting regulators penalized broadcasters for airing inappropriate content during live shows. There is effectively no regulation for social media companies; they change only in pursuit of profits or to minimize public outcry.

First off, it’s not a “relatively simple step.” It’s actually asking for something that is incredibly complex and would likely create lots of problems, with little obvious benefit. Second, the reason that broadcasters can be penalized is because they are using the public airwaves, which they got in exchange for certain conditions placed on them regarding obscenity. The internet is not like that, and part of the reason that there’s “effectively no regulation” on the internet is because the First Amendment bars it. While I’m sure that “pursuit of profit” is clearly a driving force for all of these internet platforms, to argue that that is their only driving force, and that they don’t care about the wider impact is a fun narrative totally devoid of actual understanding of those who are operating these platforms.

Either way, without recognizing any of this, Grygiel then says that after Christchurch she doesn’t even think the time delay idea is enough, and that live-streaming should be banned — unless all content is “professionally moderated” a la television.

That?s why I?m no longer recommending just a livestream delay for adolescent users ? it was an appeal to protect children when more major platform changes are unlikely. But all people deserve better and safe social media. I?m now calling on Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Facebook Live in the interest of public health and safety. In my view, that feature should be restored only if the company can prove to the public ? and to regulators ? that its design is safer.

Handling livestreaming safely includes having more than enough professional content moderators to handle the workload. Those workers also must have appropriate access to mental health support and safe working environments, so that even Facebook employees and contractors are not unduly scarred by brutal violence posted online.

This is a massive overreaction to a few crazy people using one particular tool. Yes, we agree that most people should not watch these videos, but using the very, very, very edge case to argue that live-streaming shouldn’t exist makes no sense at all. Again, most mass shootings aren’t live-streamed. And the ones that are still aren’t viewed by that many people. And, as a society, we’re (thankfully) learning not to share the video around as much (yes, there are trolls and assholes who are posting it, but unless you were really looking for the video, you weren’t going to accidentally stumble over it). And most kids I know aren’t likely to go searching for such a thing.

What happened in New Zealand was truly awful. But overreacting like this does no one any good at all.

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Comments on “Complete Overreaction: Professor Calls For Shutting Down Facebook Live, Post-Christchurch”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Live and let Live

Nah I think it is perfectly fair – people show aspects of their true character under stress and it isn’t pretty. That is precisely why we need to be harsh with these literal reactionaries – their stupidity has caused real harm.

We all rightfully excoriated the senator for blaming Islam for the mosque attack so " knee jerk reaction" isn’t an excuse for being abhorrent.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Wait, someone died? Quick, kill the camera!'

I hadn’t even thought of that, but that is a perfect example, and now I’m left wondering if they’d be consistent in saying that that should have been shut down as well or if they’d go full hypocrite and claim that that video should have been allowed because reasons.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'Wait, someone died? Quick, kill the camera!'

I can understand making a distinction, since the 9/11 videos were merely capturing an event that was happening in full public view, while the Christchurch one can be argued in part to be happening because he was able to share the carnage in that way.

It would be very difficult to make an actual legal distinction that wouldn’t lead to bigger problems, but I can see how someone can argue the difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Imagine if her rules applied during the morning of September 11. That was a live-stream of the murder of 3000+ people.

…which included video of people jumping off the buildings to their deaths. Debatable whether it counts as suicide; some have argued it’s not OK to show suicides.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

… huh. My original thought was ‘of course it’s still suicide, they deliberately took an action to end their lives’, and then the thought occurred to me, ‘if they’re already going to die, does it still count if the only choice they really make is how?’

Technically I think it would still qualify, but I can definitely see the argument for the other side(of course in neither case would I blame them. Burn to death/crushed vs fall? Not really a contest between those choices.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Looking at it another way, would it be reasonable to convict someone of murder for the deaths of those jumpers? Were I on a jury, I’d say so (not that there wouldn’t be other charges, or that 2100 vs. 2200 murder counts for 9/11 would matter). Kind of an opposite to how killing in self-defense isn’t called murder, those were not legitimately suicidal people. I’ll guess many were grasping at a faint chance of survival; wouldn’t we have seen other suicide methods otherwise?

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Not sure what other methods we would have been able to see. We couldn’t see what was happening inside the building. The jumpers were the only ones visible outside the building.

It’s entirely possible that someone who may have, for example, been carrying a gun found themselves in that same situation and shot themselves. After the collapse of the towers pulverized all the bodies, it would be impossible to tell if anyone inside took their own lives to avoid roasting to death in a manner other than jumping.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It can be argued that the jumpers were not trying to end their own lives, but instead take the only course of action available to save it. Sure, it was unlikely to do that, but given the choice between burning alive and being one of those people you occasionally hear about who jump from insane distances and somehow still alive, taking the second option is not suicide.

That One Guy (profile) says:

So much potential, so much to restrict...

People might send obscene stuff over the phone, better block that until it can be properly pre-screened.

People might send illegal stuff through the mail, better block that until every last package can be properly pre-screened.

People can use any number of things to do illegal things, better ban purchases until a system is in place to keep people safe from any abuses.

Privacy can allow people to do all sorts of obscene, heinous, and/or illegal actions, better start adding cameras everywhere to prevent that.

If they want to kill a tool just because some asshole misused it, and they want to be consistent, then their life is going to get a lot more restrictive and controlled.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Subject to some to be determined requirements

"Handling livestreaming safely includes having more than enough professional content moderators to handle the workload. Those workers also must have appropriate access to mental health support and safe working environments, so that even Facebook employees and contractors are not unduly scarred by brutal violence posted online."

Does that mean that you need one counselor for every 5 or 7 moderators, 24/7/365 cause you never know when the next idiot might jump the shark?

Does that mean that the counselors need special training, or would off the shelf therapists be applicable?

Does that mean that the moderators be housed in rubber rooms with nerf furniture?

Does that mean that they have to have moderators available for every language on the planet, or can they make their determinations from the video portion alone?

Or does that mean something much more drastic?

And in the end, after she has mandated these enormous expenditures, what will she have achieved? Not much, because there will be a different streaming media outlet that will not be considered social media and not subject to these draconian rules.

madasahatter (profile) says:

One Word: Idiot

Live streaming is not the fundamental problem while most of the live streams are innocuous and at worst banal. Since most (like vast majority) are at worst boring Facebook, et. al. are going to rely on the public flagging the stream before they take action. No matter what kind of system you have there is too much streamed at given moment for the service to actively monitor every stream. This is an inherent problem and my suggestion to the idiot is to grow up and deal with the problem in an adult manner; there is no fair or easy solution that will work other than relying on users flagging the content.

Also, a good deal of the blame should be placed on the media (not TD) who breathlessly reported that video existed and implied people needed to watch it. If they kept their mouths shut far fewer would have know about it If the idiot wanted to do some good ask CNN, Fox, etc. why they had to mention it had been streamed; it really wasn’t relevant to the story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Immediate wide sweeping changes after a highly publicized event is how we got the PATRIOT Act and the unAmerican domestic spying dystopia that comes with it. I’m a fan of the definition of unAmerican as achieving ones means outside the bounds of the constitution. [i]That[/i] kinda of unAmerican.

I’m also a fan of the rule proposed that no sweeping changes are to be made until at minimum a year after a high profile event. Look I know the Kardashian series just ended on an incredibly emotional note, and the digital media bloggers have clucked themselves into ever more emotional heights over it. We’re not going to redefine the founding fathers as the Kardashians and ban all Netflix shows that are not the Kardashians. That’s fucking stupid.

Censorship is exactly as fucking stupid. The world has some risks. The adults in the room plan to minimize those risks as best possible with understanding that it’s impossible to ever completely eliminate all risk. The children in the room yell, "I want candy!" over and over again.

sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

In the wake of Godwin’s murder, I recommended that Facebook Live broadcasts be time-delayed

In Soviet Union, "live" TV broadcasts were time-delayed. If it was a failed space rocket launch, the public didn’t need to know it – at all. If it was a national address by a senile, sedated leader and he would fart or, worse, drop dead in the middle of that – it would be something that never happens in the Country of Well-Developed Socialism: Soviet leaders were supposed to die in hospital.

Thank you, professor Grygiel, for your novel idea.

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