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Facebook Live has a big problem: livestreamed violence

Facebook would really like for you to start making Live videos. We know this because the company is currently paying for lots of ads that say as much, believing that Live will help siphon away dollars from TV advertisers.

One problem? Violent things keep happening on Facebook Live, the most recent being the kidnapping and brutal beating of a mentally handicapped man by four people in Chicago. And it’s unclear whether Facebook, or social media in general, is prepared to reap what it has sown in attempting to make Facebook Live a hit feature.


To begin with, monitoring and taking down live broadcasts of violent incidents takes time and resources. Facebook says it has “a team on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week” that responds to user-flagged content, and that it monitors videos reaching “a certain level of popularity, even if they haven’t been reported.” Still, this week’s Chicago attack went viral and was up for roughly a half-hour before it was taken down.

It was not an isolated incident, nor was it the kind of thing restricted to Facebook. The first social media livestreamed act of violence that consumed the news cycle occurred in August 2015, when a man used Periscope to stream his murder of two TV journalists in Virginia. Since then, as more users have gotten access to live-broadcasting tools, livestreamed violence has proliferated.

Last May, a mentally ill Tampa, Florida man broadcast his shootout with police — who eventually apprehended him using info from his Live broadcast. The same month, a man using the video game streaming site Twitch attacked his girlfriend mid-broadcast; and a month before that, an Ohio teenager streamed her friend’s rape on Facebook Live. Last June, a man unwittingly streamed his own murder in Chicago on Live, mirroring a similar incident from February on Periscope.

Tools like Facebook Live and Periscope have also been used to draw important attention to acts of violence that might otherwise have gone overlooked. Last July, Minneapolis woman Diamond Reynolds used Live to broadcast the death of her fiancé, Philando Castile, after he was shot by police, unarmed, while sitting in his car. The video went viral and prompted protests across the country.

In November, Minnesota prosecutors announced that they were filing manslaughter charges against the officer who shot Castile. According to Teresa Nelson, legal director of the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU, the video “absolutely had an impact” on the decision to file charges.

“One of the reasons that police don’t face charges often is because there is so much willingness to defer to the police version of events, and there’s nothing to counteract that narrative,” Nelson said. “With the Castile video, you have someone who is speaking in the immediate aftermath about what is happening and what just happened…. You see a different piece of the picture.”