Periscope — A Voyeur’s Paradise or the New Broadcast Hub of Unfiltered Breaking News?

One moment you are on the edge of your seat watching intently as a ferocious fire is engulfing a New York neighbourhood which is over 3,000 miles away, the next you are in a complete stranger’s kitchen, monitoring their expression on their proud sandwich construction, next you are tentatively spying on someone undressing in their bedroom, inviting the prying gaze of the internet. Meet Periscope, Twitter’s strange new app which lets you instantly flick between hundreds of live-streams as you are thrust directly into someone else’s world.

Periscope, which is currently only available for iOS (although apparently an Android port is being assembled), is the latest app released by Twitter which allows you to live-stream your life straight from your smartphone to absolutely any willing receiver across the globe.

The app, which debuted on Thursday after over a year in development, in turn allows users to view each other’s streams from around the world which, as I witnessed, are extremely varied and completely uncensored. Its creators have marketed it as a new way to ‘discover events and places’ through the use of live video and they ‘wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation’ so that users can have the most immersive experience within a story.

Periscope makes its doctrine clear on its website: ‘A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.’ Periscope wants you to not only share events that are intimate and personal to you but also incidents which are newsworthy. So what kind of material are users actually choosing to transmit on Periscope and what are people wanting to see?

After hearing about the app on Friday, I was itching to give it a go and here is what I found out.

Getting started on Periscope is extremely simple. All you need is a Twitter account and a smart device which uses iOS as its operating system (I used my iPod Touch) as well as a connection to the internet with Wi-Fi or through a 3G/4G network. Then just download the app and you are ready to commence your streaming career.

I began by watching a few streams in order to gauge what was observable, titles spanned from the reasonably engaging ‘Driving to Cannes’ and ‘Why is there an ambulance outside our flat?’ to the predictable ‘Fat Kid loves cake’ and ‘Chilling with the lads’. Highlights I uncovered included a short visit to a raucous ZZ Top concert in Kentucky, a quick round at a Brazilian 25th birthday party complete with an exquisitely layered chocolate cake, and concluded with an excitable gentleman in West Africa leading me on a grand tour of his small home.

I soon noticed that spectators can comment on the stream in real time with both the streaming party and all of its participants able to see the comments as they are posted on the video. As a viewer you can also show your appreciation for the broadcaster by tapping the screen which sends them a virtual ‘heart’. The cumulative number of hearts a user possesses from all of their past streams is displayed on their profile and the users with the greatest number of ‘hearts’ are displayed in the ‘Most Loved’ list in the people section of the app. To me, this seemed somewhat oxymoronic and even inappropriate when considering that one of the app’s main purposes is to broadcast serious news based content live from the scene. The premise of the ‘most loved’ list reminded me of the pathetic talent contest that failed social networking site Bebo seemed to be centred upon.

Aside from this, I found that exploring the interface was reasonably fun if a bit repetitive so I decided to bite the bullet and streamed myself with the caption: ‘Writing an article on Periscope. Voice your opinions!’ I allowed Periscope to tweet from my personal account to advertise that I was free to regard at that very moment. A link then popped up on my twitter which invited anyone to view the content I was streaming on their smart devices or computers.

Overall I think that the stream went better than I anticipated and I peaked at 11 viewers, many of whom I managed to have a direct dialogue with through their comments and my streamed responses. Respondents specified that they were using Periscope as way to observe how other people were living and also to travel around the world with just the tap of a button.

However it was here that I also encountered something that I was all too familiar with through my investigation into past internet-based video services; the usual Chatroulette-esque pleas for nudity. Periscope is riddled with sexually frustrated users who are only there for the purpose of voyeuristic titillation. I would approximate that over half the comments I received on my stream were requests to see my genitals and through deeper examination I found that there are significant numbers of streamers who are visually exposing themselves on the service which was definitely not surprising but somewhat disheartening.

Thankfully though I saw several users vocally expressing their frustration at the possibility that Periscope will be ruined by sex streaming just as it has begun its life. Personally I can envision an alternative app being created for adult content if Periscope chooses to ban users who post explicit material which they deem as not newsworthy. Although this would leave Periscope behind its competitors, of which there are many, including Meerkat, an app nearly identical to Periscope which was premiered at SXSW over the last few weeks. As a display of force, Twitter has already denied Meerkat access to its social graphing feature whereby Meerkat users can see other account holders which they already follow on Twitter and whether they have Meerkat.

This got me thinking of the potential flaws with Periscope and its live-streaming rivals. What is to stop these apps being hijacked by terrorist groups streaming live gruesome beheadings as their violent declaration of war against the West? What about concerts, music and cinema? Will sanctions be introduced to prevent copyrighted content from being streamed live? If unreleased and restricted content is being streamed from a smartphone does that mean it is illegal? Surely it will not be difficult for anyone to stream from a false twitter handle with their details hidden and bounced around several separate IP address and become the untraceable submitter of raw content?

If Periscope and its counterparts are going to be used as the epicentre of unfiltered opinions and news, they have a chance at dethroning Twitter, the supreme ruler of instantaneous ongoing raw coverage. Alternatively, Twitter may have just created the easiest way for the dark underbelly of the web to reveal itself seemingly without any repercussions.

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