Criminal Exhibitionism and Facebook Live

Facebook has been in the news many times. From stories on its scrappy beginnings to its IPO, Facebook has enjoyed some great coverage on media outlets. Even more outlandish remarks from its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to “cure all diseases” receive a fair amount of attention from large -and small- sources. However with increasing frequency, the times that Facebook is mentioned are less than desirable for Zuckerberg’s company. Its Livestreaming feature leaves Facebook in a peculiar position that may define what kind of company it will be for the foreseeable future.

Facebook Live: Fun Real Time Updates on Friends, with the Occasional Snuff Film

The sad truth of humanity is that we can be an incredibly cruel species to each other. Even before Facebook, murderers, robbers, and all sorts of criminals would taunt law enforcement and the public. A fairly well known instance of this would be Jack the Ripper, the infamous Whitechapel murderer in Victorian London who would send letters -and allegedly some of his victim’s organs- the the police and newspapers. Even with circulation of news back then being pale in comparison to what Facebook can do in a few hours now, word got around enough that many bemoaned the callous nature of news and media for reporting on such stories after the fact.

But now Facebook’s live stream puts its users in a position where they may unwillingly be watching a snuff film or torture porn. The torture of a man in Chicago was live streamed last year. More recently than that, the Facebook Live Killer who shot a man seemingly picked at random in Ohio filmed and streamed that whole event. Days following that, a man in Thailand killed his daughter and recorded it on Facebook.

Many of these videos stayed up for hours before they were flagged and removed. As mentioned before, many criminals seem to enjoy the powerful feeling of mocking authorities and the public by publicizing their crimes. Could Facebook’s Live Streaming capabilities be encouraging criminal activity then? While such videos only add evidence to solid cases brought against the perpetrators, their openness to the public presents Facebook with a conundrum: How to address criminal -sometimes violently so- on their site?

Disable, Stand Idle, or Censor

As I see it, this is one of those instances where Facebook needs to decide what kind of company it wants to be and form a policy around that. A company executive at Facebook acknowledged that they needed to do better. What exactly that means, remains unclear. Facebook can potentially disable their live streaming feature. That would take power away from any potential criminal from making themselves and their crime(s) famous via the Facebook platform. This may be unlikely though, as other social media sites have this feature and Facebook would need to stay competitive.

They could stand idle, and continue dealing with such actions as they are currently. This requires that for a video to be flagged and taken down, it would need to be reported and reviewed. They’ve faced criticism for the lethargic nature of this process in the fast paced digital age. Finally, they could double down on their censorship, comb over uploaded and streamed content for quick indexing, searching for inappropriate content, and removing that content.

This last option is what I think they will trend toward, as one day it may not be so crazy a possibility with strong enough code and servers. While this would potentially solve the problem, it does call into question how much it values the privacy and agency of its law-abiding users.

Facebook may be tasked with choosing if they want to be less competitive, subject to critic’s ire, or the next great censor of interpersonal content. Regardless of how they may tackle this problem, all I know is that I do not envy the men and women who need to do so.

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