Commentary

The Media Is Unmediated - And The Revolution Will Be Live Streamed

Earlier this week, my Verizon Fios, my lifeline, the light of my life, the fire of my writing (such as it is) died.

Over the next four days, I experienced all the stages of tech-support grief, except that such grief ends with powerlessness instead of acceptance.  Most galling was that I couldn’t cut out to Starbucks with my laptop during the long hours various Verizon techs were in the hallway closet of my apartment, fiddling.

This is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, my colleague Bob Garfield introduced the “Comcast must die” movement way back in 2007.

Nothing much has changed.

Still, once the magic was restored, I was planning to write a comic opera about the strikingly non-helpful stuff the tech guys who came out to fix my cross-contacts said. Things like, “I think someone installed your router while we were on strike.” (Uh, no.) Or, as the second guy making his second visit said, “I see. This was the way we had to do it before we could do it in a different way.”

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I was left with a temporary fix, a ticket for “construction” and a “Let’s keep our fingers crossed” from that second tech guy, who also added, “Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Thanks, Verizon Guy.

Obviously, since then, all hell has broken loose in the country, with all of us feeling rage and grief over the horrifying shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, in East Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile, in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. Both men were black, and killed by white police officers.

As we now know, by the following evening, people in cities all over the U.S. had organized and were marching in peaceful protests, protected by their local police without incident. That’s when war broke out in Dallas, with five police officers shot and killed in an ongoing atrocity.

Guns, race, violence, justice, lunacy. As a country, we’ve reached a breaking point.

The really sad irony was that the Dallas police force, with its black police chief, was making steady progress in this area. The 2014 murder rate in Dallas was the lowest since 1930.

But let’s get to the micro. These shootings also seem to have brought us to a new media inflection point.

In the speeches following these murders, family and community members started out by thanking Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. by name. May I add that obvious irony that Silicon Valley is not known for its generous hiring of people of color.

Still, had these incidents not been captured via tech devices, these two deaths could have ended up as just more cold statistics. (“Male with gun shot at traffic stop.”)

Obviously, these civilian smartphone videos have been driving the news for a while. They did with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray—sadly, the list goes on and on.

Now, police officers are told that you can’t interfere with people videotaping at these scenes.

Still, this feels like a critical moment, the instant we actually felt the disruption, with Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, having the preternatural calm, focus and presence of mind to broadcast his death on Facebook Live, a service that just became available last April.

As her boyfriend sat next to her in the car, bleeding and moaning, and the officer who had just killed him shouted and kept his gun trained on her from the other side of the window, we could watch her narrate the story in real time.

As musician and poet Gil-Scott Heron said about another time of social chaos and violence, the 1960s: “The revolution will not be televised.” He was right. People like Diamond Reynolds prove that the revolution will be live streamed.

The future will be unmediated. As we watched, Reynolds became both the message and the medium, the embodiment of Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement. By Thursday morning, her 10-minute video had gotten 4 million views.

A game-changer, the Reynolds video is like the Zapruder film of the St. Paul incident. (And Reynolds is like the Mother Mary of media.) Suddenly, we have a focus that will live on and provide second-by-second data for historians to analyze.

And yes, in a related way, we have a new mother of a conspiracy theory brewing in Dallas, where another key incident that led to all kinds of theories took place in 1963.

The shootings bore an eerie resemblance to the assassination of JFK, two blocks from Dealey Plaza, with a shooter from above, (a “lone gunman”?) and some of the injured going to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where JFK was pronounced dead. Many people recorded parts of the evening and posted them online, at once providing horrifying documents and catnip for conspiracy theorists.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and his Facebook droogies introduced Facebook Live three months ago as a way to drive revenue. But he also said at the time, that he wanted to allow his more than 1 billion users an “emotional and raw and visceral” outlet.

Obviously, the service, still in its infancy, raises huge ethical, policy, and yes, advertising issues.  I wrote about my experience with Facebook bots throwing me off the platform for two days for posting “offensive content” — quoting directly from the testimony of an ad agency lawsuit.

Is there any protocol in place for what gets posted? Did the FB powers think these live videos would be limited to You Tube-like funnies featuring spaced-out kids, crazy dogs, and women laughing in masks they just bought at Target?

What happens when a terrorist decides to use this “emotional, raw and visceral” tool?  Or when a relative live streams the death of a loved one, without permission from the rest of the family?

Are there rules? The Reynolds video was taken offline and put up again an hour later. Who decides and how?

The reason that the FCC has established fairness and decency boundaries, and that journalists actually have editors, suddenly makes sense. Now, with civilians acting as their own platforms, we are ushering in new media militias.

And down the road, what will that mean for advertisers?

As a FB friend put it, “Here's a horrifying video of an innocent black man being blown away by the side of the road, but first, check out this pre-roll from Chili's!”

The country was violent and out of control this week, leaving so many good citizens with “not-again” despair. In this case, Facebook Live acted as a savior. On the other hand, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

One thing is for sure: we’ll all need Wi-Fi.

Can you hear me now?

19 comments about "The Media Is Unmediated - And The Revolution Will Be Live Streamed".
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  1. Julie Cristal from FTFGU, July 8, 2016 at 2:28 p.m.

    Social media has created instant, non-vetted news available as we grocery shop. Some of that is good. Some of that is bad.



    Not only is is fundamentally changing us as a society, but this new way we consume news probably also is changing our brains.

  2. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund, July 8, 2016 at 2:33 p.m.

    That's some good writing.

  3. Melanie Howard from self employed, July 8, 2016 at 2:37 p.m.

    Excellen piece. The problem with instant video is we'll see a fraction of what happened and judge by that fraction. And in the world of social media, people have appointed themselves judge and jury. I believe in sunshine and free speech, but at the same time have this feeling that we're slouching toward anarchy.

  4. Garrett Donaldson from JKR Advertising & Marketing, July 8, 2016 at 2:42 p.m.

    "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, July 8, 2016 at 2:44 p.m.

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I thought of another question: Who owns the video? For example, Diamond Reynolds was told to get out of the car, tackled  to the ground, and put in handcuffs, as her daughter cried. Her phone was taken away by police. 
    She subsequently live streamed another statement, from another phone, thanking everyone, and asking for justice. 

  6. Len Stein from Visibility Public Relations, July 8, 2016 at 3:18 p.m.

    sad, sad days for america... lots of hate coming home to roost....the 'times they are a changing' but we're again marching in the wrong direction. will there ever be peace, love and reconciliation?

  7. Lauren Lowenthal from HowtoGetanA, July 8, 2016 at 3:36 p.m.

    You pose an interesting question. When we went from 5 channels to 1000 the notion of broadcast scarcity, and a political climate that hated all regulation, got rid of most media regulations. And in my view, unless we really do move on to fascists Big Brother, it's not coming back. The Supreme Court has construed expression so broadly (money is protected free speech) that there is very little chance they can shove that genie back in the bottle, and try to regulate personal use of media. I can see a possible way for individuals to sue for damages when claiming harm by being broadcast, but then again that may require an expectation of privacy, which is as much an anachronism as rabbit ear antennae. And if , for some reason, Congress or what's left of the FCC tries to regulate live streaming or any other use of the camera functions to send messages and media into the world, Silicon Valley will beat the hell out of them (and make the NRA look like pacifists.) The Supreme Court isn't going to limit free speech unless and until Citizens United is struck down, and even then, a populist movement would never tolerate a constriction of freedom of expression by the government. I think Orwell wrote the script, and we're just playing it out.·The only thing I can see is a movement toward self-filtering (God willing) in which the consequences of random, unedited streaming loses people opportunities, just as Facebook posts keep kids out of the college of their choice. But aside from judicious self-editing, taught in workshops on how to succeed despite 21st Century media, I doubt the government as we know it (democracy with a Bill of Rights and anti-regulatory leanings) will help. But there are business opportunities here, Iam sure,. Maybe an automatic wipe. Maybe an invisibility shield

  8. Lauren Lowenthal from HowtoGetanA, July 8, 2016 at 3:42 p.m.

     I wonder if the laws of evidence will change. Will Criminal prosecutors or defense attorneys  want them to change? In terms of private action, money talks, So defense attorneys may want things to stay same, in which you often need permission to tape someone in order to use as evidence. It could eventually lead to changes in the rules of evidence at trial. Rught now they just use video without audio, and manage to wiggle outof it by saying "Don't believe your lying eyes."

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 8, 2016 at 8:33 p.m.

    Community without regulations = chaos. Community with too many regulations = chaos. Thank you, Barbara, for putting all the pieces in place for us to see a clearer confusion. Oligarchy is certainly a force with which to be reckoned. There is no magic, no miracles; only illusion. Science (all of them) reigns. 

  10. Jim English from The Met Museum, July 8, 2016 at 11:51 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara.  It's like you say,  without the live stream of Philando Castile's shooting it would just be a fatal incident at a traffic stop.

  11. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC, July 9, 2016 at 5:10 p.m.

    Excellent and thoughtful piece that raises many issues.

    The radio version of War of the Worlds created mass hysteria in 1938.  How would Orson Welles have used Facebook Live?

    Hope the EAS is being extended to include media like FB-Live.



  12. marnie delaney from doodlebug, July 9, 2016 at 9:04 p.m.

    Barbara, I can't help but think how happy the NRA must be that we are all getting used to seeing people killed "live" and frequently.  I know that the televizing of Viet Nam was stunning in its close-up reality.  It was a new experience to watch the bullets fly "in person", in "now".  In today's world, violence and death are part of our entertainment, news and daily lives in ways that still move us, but, is the profundity of it anaesthetized somewhat by its ubiquity?  Do we feel less, do we do less, do we forgive more?  I don't know, but, I'm not sure I want to live in a country where we move farther and farther from caring about our own humanity and about other humans and closer and closer to living in our own isolated "social" media bubbles.  As far as advertising goes - I suppose there will always be ways to find just the right vehicle to reach just the right target audience with whatever nonsense needs selling.  I just hope someday compassion and doing the right thing merge and become a big enough business to afford the necessary media schedule to sell their product. 

  13. Eric Gutierrez from Hey,, July 9, 2016 at 11:47 p.m.

    We are all a camera now. And that forever changes media as we once knew it. Hopefully eloquent discourse and meaningful images and video will rise to the top of the feed as this evolves.

  14. Elaine Ellman from Studio ee , July 10, 2016 at 1:34 a.m.

    Brilliantly written as always. I don't see that more access to life as it happens is anything but an advance. Diamond Reynolds didn't need privileged media access to get her tragic story to us; citizens videos have transmitted the meaning of brutality more strongly to more people than words have. A new ACLU app for instant transmission to them will be helpful and may even result in civil discourse.  






  15. Frank Newcomer from Dystopian Empire, July 10, 2016 at 11:32 p.m.

    I can't remember the exact quote, but I'm sure it was Marshall Mcluhan, since I was one of those irritating college guys who worshipped him. But it had to do with the fact that as the tools of the media become more easily available to the masses, the greater the chance for mediocrity in the media. I think we've been seeing this for some time. 

    But for all his ability to see into our future, I don't really believe he saw what Diamond Reynolds showed us. Which Gil Scott-Heron might rephrase, "a rat done bit my sister, Nell. But whitey ain't on the moon, {no more}." 

    I'm all for having the revolution livestreamed. I just hope I'm not sitting on my facebook butt watching it. 

  16. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq replied, July 11, 2016 at 12:03 p.m.

    On point as always Barbara, and good comments from your crew (some of my FB friends included). I agree with Melanie about our "slouching toward anarchy" (which is an excellent turn of phrase). It is always this way when new technology hits the mainstream; the repercussions are not immediately apparent and sometimes what seems to be a very good thing, turns out at least in the short term to be really bad. I'm thinking of the asshole who killed his 2 former newsroom co-workers live on the air in Virginia last year. He was taking advantage of the live TV news feed. Now with Facebook Live, as you pointed out, anyone can do it.

    The repercussions are scary, as well as hopeful as in the instance of Diamond Reynolds having the courage and fortitude to post that video. I wonder what Facebook's lawyers are saying. I wonder if the FCC is going to be able to come up with a way to regulate. It's the Wild West out there.

  17. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq replied, July 11, 2016 at 12:05 p.m.

    I believe Diamond said her reason for posting to Facebook Live in the first place rather than just shoot video on her phone, was that she believed that her phone would be taken away from her and she was worried about the video being deleted.

  18. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq replied, July 11, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    Lauren Lowenthal, all excellent questions. You are right that once cable TV was allowed to flourish, the FCC has become fairly toothless. They still exert some control over the broadcast networks but their grip is tenuous at best. Barbara raised the point that journalistic standards and ethics were (and are) taught, but the self-publishing "journalists" of our current age are not learning what is the right way and the wrong way to do things in any school. Self-policing probably is our only hope, as we don't want to see censorship or free speech impeded. But we also don't want to see sudden murders burst onto our screens with no warning. As a society we are all going to become either impassioned to do better, or hardened to all the violence. Let's hope it's the former.

  19. Frank Ramirez from NA, July 11, 2016 at 10:30 p.m.

    As we have seen many times not everyone is dealing with a full deck. When irresponsible editting, positionng, and inflamatory speech is propogated by hate groups or the media it can have deadly consequeces. Shootings to not occure in a vacume. In Dallas and in Sandyhook mental health and freely available guns resulted in tradegy. We need to make it alot harder to get and keep a gun in this country. If the NRA has an issue with that  then as far as I am concerned they cand go F*&^& themselves - all they are is merchants of death.   

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