How 'Live' Do We Want Our Streaming Video?

P.J. Bednarski is on vacation. This is a blog from July.

Has it come to this?  In early July, three Norfolk, Va., men in a car were singing along to a song by a rap artist named LIl Bibby when an unknown shooter or shooters began spraying them with bullets, perhaps 20 or so.

As it turns out--and as it may turn out many times more in the future in circumstances like this --Facebook Live was on the scene. One of the guys was using it to broadcast their vocals.

After the shooting, the video continues, but the cellphone falls to the car floor so nothing much is seen. But we hear a person nearby who rushed to the scene urging the victims to stay calm and stay awake and assure them help is on the way.

One of the victims is said to have life-threatening injuries. Nobody has been arrested in the shooting.

I suppose this Facebook Live episode interests me because comparatively, it’s not very newsworthy.

After three extraordinarily high-profile Facebook Live crime shoots--in Baton Rouge, outside St. Paul, Minn, and in Dallas--it appears old hat and established fact that Facebook will be documenting the carnage, live and on the scene, for the rest of our living days.

So I wonder. There is one thing about live streams of sporting events and planned news events, like the political conventions, that make live-ness make sense. We know something is going to happen; that’s the point. There is other sponsored “live” programming that, at this point, is fairly useless.

Then there is the rest: Live user-generated video that is interesting, but not vital, with chat that is usually insipid.

But for ordinary folks, “live” can be awful, because reality can be mighty, mighty cruel and sickening in the worst instances.

I wonder, in short, if live streaming of the sort Periscope and Facebook and YouTube now allow, is a tech feature that is really worth its liveness. Would even a slight delay for the sake of humanity, be so awful? Then I think of the shooting of Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minn or Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and recognize, that liveness matters.

So the occasional good--and I think those incidents qualify--may overshadow the very likely ugly to come.

We will, however, build up an even larger, but now homegrown library of video violence.

Facebook, once this place we traded high-school reunion memories and other actual friendly stuff, now is a war zone of political differences and coming soon, the place of live violence.

After last week, Facebook posted a well meaning clarification of its live video policy about violence. Funny, this is the same site that sweated the nuance of expanding its "like" button.

“One of the most sensitive situations involves people sharing violent or graphic images of events taking place in the real world. In those situations, context and degree are everything," the Facebook post says. "For instance, if a person witnessed a shooting, and used Facebook Live to raise awareness or find the shooter, we would allow it. However, if someone shared the same video to mock the victim or celebrate the shooting, we would remove the video.”

The problem is that the mocking/celebratory video stays there for awhile, and the interpretation is Facebook’s to make. In Chicago, a gang member’s Facebook Live video is still up there showing him being shot, and the aftermath, because Facebook determined seeing the painful video sent a anti-violence message. Maybe they’ll make the same determination in the Norfolk case.

The bend in the rules is hard to see — and also inevitable. We’re just at the beginning of finding that out. Mistakes are usually reported in the past tense.
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