Facebook’s budget for advertising is such that, when it rolls out a full-scale campaign, it’s difficult to ignore it. Beginning in 2016, the social media giant set into motion a global, targeted campaign to grow its Facebook Live feature, seeing live user-generated video as the future of sharing on its core product. Motivated by the success of services like Periscope, Facebook is going all guns blazing to make Live the principle means of sharing moments online.
Unsurprisingly, the marketing team at Facebook chose examples of fun spontaneity in their campaign. Real user videos of children being funny, people playing in parks, pranks, musical recitals - all of Facebook’s chosen examples were amusing or profound, a clear indication of how the company wants Live to be used. But the service has not been introduced without controversy. Examples of users broadcasting crimes, from tortures to shootings, have plagued Facebook’s promotion of the service almost continually since it launched. With the murder of a Cleveland resident broadcast through Facebook Live, and subsequently shared and viewed millions of times before its removal, the social media giant’s policy regarding the removal of content is once again under the spotlight.
Sarah T Roberts, information studies professor from UCLA, told The Guardian: ’There have been beatings, rapes, suicide … other incidents seemed to be building to this. The question I have is at what point do we transfer some of the responsibility for these acts to the platform?’ Social media as a device, and particularly live video, lends itself to ‘performance crime’. With no editorial discretion to affect the content, live video gives the narcissistic criminal a chance to spread their actions exactly as they happen.
Some see Facebook’s stance on the removal of content as lax. The company says it has a ‘team on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dedicated to responding to these reports immediately.’ A piece of content only has to be reported once to be flagged for review by this dedicated team, but naturally the volume of reports is high. To develop a piece of machine learning software to detect offensive or disturbing content automatically would be an incredibly difficult and potentially problematic endeavor so, for now, Facebook is committed to speeding up the process of flagging and removal. Justin Osofsky, vice-president of operations at Facebook, said: ’As a result of this terrible series of events, we are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards as easily and quickly as possible.’
There are some things we can all learn from Facebook’s ongoing struggle with its commitment to live video. Wherever there is an inability to verify or edit content before it goes live online, there are going to be complications. Live broadcasting is difficult. The preparation time and funding needed to make it a success is great and, by definition, there is little margin for error. For publishers investing in making quality live video, the likelihood of a blunder is infinitely higher when the publisher abandons the safety net of the edit.
Facebook would undoubtedly like to see the publishers that share content on its services turn to live video along with its users; having top brands using the burgeoning service will go a long way to aiding user buy-in. But, when the medium is the same, the audience is the same, and the outcome is the same, is there actually any need for most content to be live? Well, according to Livestream, enjoyment of video increases sales intent by 97% and brands association by 139%. Similarly, 80% of consumers would prefer to watch live video than read a blog post.
But the desperate push to accommodate changing consumer demands is leading to far too much live video that is either banal, poorly thought out, or irrelevant to the publisher producing it. Indeed, 62% of consumers are more likely to have a negative perception of a brand that publishes poor-quality video, so the stakes are high when making the decision to go live. Just as Facebook is working hard to sensor the live content that goes out over its platforms, so should those creating it.
It’s because of the element of spontaneity that businesses need to be wary when putting together live content of their own. For many brands, the less polished, more candid nature of live video is simply not appropriate. If mistakes are made, or the content of the video is deemed offensive, the lack of opportunity for review before publishing could be catastrophic. As Facebook’s international roll-out has proven, the inability to edit, vet, sensor, and review live content is problematic for both platform and publisher. For damagingly poor branded live content, though, there will be no regulatory body.