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Facebook Live: Risk or Reward?

Facebook Live is celebrating its first birthday next month, but not without some controversy. The mobile-friendly feature was created for people to spontaneously broadcast their lives in an unedited and unpredictable way. However, this also means at times providing an unadulterated look at abusive individuals and situations.

This wasn’t Facebook’s original intent. Its “Go Live” advertisements highlight light-hearted streaming, with tutorials showing users how they can go Livewhen you see someone walking an animal that’s not a dog,” or “if you’ve got a hidden talent that you’re ready to make not-so-hidden.” Unfortunately, some users have also used Live to broadcast their darker experiences to huge audiences in real time.

Last July, Diamond Reynolds Live streamed her boyfriend Philando Castile’s death after he was fatally shot by a police officer at a traffic stop. Reynolds’ video was followed by a string of Facebook Live videos broadcasting fatal police brutality, leading to Fusion calling Live “the tool for live streaming death by police.”

Police brutality isn’t the only alleged crime that has been captured by Live. A Hawaiian transgender woman cited Reynold’s video of Castile as inspiration to stream her supervisor’s sexual advances. After the woman posted, the man was arrested and charged with fourth-degree sexual assault.

And just last month, three African-American women broadcasted their removal from a sushi restaurant in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, believing themselves to have been victims of racial discrimination. They named both the restaurant and its general manager in their stream, causing a flood of criticism on the restaurant’s Facebook page. That page has since been taken down.

There have, unfortunately, always been stories of police brutality, incidents of sexual harassment, and reports of discrimination in both traditional and social media. However, the possibility of being shown in real time on Facebook Live makes it necessary for organizations and companies to respond even more quickly to harmful or problematic incidents involving associated individuals. An individual who is not aligned with the values of a brand can cause critical damage to that brand when featured in a live video without context.

While many social platforms incorporate video sharing (think Snapchat and Instagram), Facebook Live gives users the option to go public with their videos, increasing viewership and even allowing television networks to broadcast Facebook Live users’ videos. One employee’s negative words to a customer can now be witnessed by millions before a company has time to put a response plan in action.

In his Facebook post announcing the launch of Live, Mark Zuckerberg promised “big shift in how we communicate.” He wasn’t wrong. As people are increasingly able to communicate in real time, brands and individuals must be prepared to respond in real time. And as Facebook Live nears its first birthday, communicators should look towards the next technological advancement that will further open the lines of communication.

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