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.