Is Facebook Live Dangerous?

Is Facebook live dangerous? Is Facebook responsible for the deaths and victims filmed live using one of its most recent tools? These questions permeate news cycles as many wrestle with answers, solutions and strategies for managing what appears to be the darker side of Facebook. We at the SAFElab at Columbia University have received several requests to discuss the implications of the recent Facebook live murders. First, we offer our condolences to the families of the people who have lost loved ones or have been victimized publically. Second, we wanted to offer ideas, strategies, and pose new questions to advance the conversation towards positive and equitable solutions.

Is Facebook Live a tool?

What are the ways Facebook Live is used?

  • What gets media attention? Murders, beatings, suicides, etc.
  • When is Facebook live content not publicized?

Is Facebook Live Bad?

Facebook Live allows us to:

  • 1) Document, process, identify multiple macro and micro-level issues in our society in real time (e.g., police violence)
  • 2) Tell our own stories, unadulterated
  • 3) Connect globally, with loved ones, family members, expanding the ways we can communicate
  • 4) Access information immediately

Social media can be a force for good- how and when does it become negative?

  • Context matters.The lived experiences of users influences how and why they use Facebook live. This is an important consideration when developing new tools and evaluating their performance and impact across communities

Facebook Live has some potentially harmful impacts:

  • 1) Being used as a platform to commit violent acts against others or broadcast self-harm
  • 2) The immediate visibility of events may lead to copycat behavior, trauma, and retraumatizing families of deceased individuals
  • 3) Challenges around effective and accurate content reporting mechanisms, which leads to video streams being shared many times before the content is taken down, after it has impacted many users in possibly harmful ways

Is Facebook Responsible for the deaths/violence that occurs on Facebook live?

What is the extent and scope of the problem of violence and self-harm being broadcasted on Facebook live?

  • Important questions to consider: when is violence initiated on Facebook Live intentionally versus Facebook live capturing violence embedded in a users’ environment?

What is Facebook’s responsibility?

  • What are decision points where input from others is needed to think through the intentions and possible impacts of Facebook Live content

When/how should Facebook censor information?

  • Potential harm to others
  • Potential bias
  • Violates privacy/user agreements

Where do our expectations of Facebook’s responsibility end, and user responsibility begin?

  • What does user responsibility look like?
  • Where does user responsibility begin and end?


For Facebook:

Create Interdisciplinary Working Groups built around the questions offered above

  • Social scientists, youth, community members, helping professionals (social workers, psychologists, doctors)

Create Review Board Process

  • Responsible for reviewing Facebook Live content and deciding the extent of Facebook’s responsibility

Create Guidelines around research uses of violent Facebook Live content

  • With the purpose of future violence prevention.
  • Opportunities to study bio-psycho-social elements of human life as we process them in real time
  • What are the triggers? Moderating factors? Mitigating factors?

For Users:

Reflecting on our own reasons for using Facebook Live

  • Why and how do we use Facebook Live?
  • Are there consequences for using Facebook Live in the ways we do?

Family Conversations with Youth around Facebook Live

  • What might those conversations look like?
  • Questions to ask young people?
  • Asking young people why they use Facebook Live over other social media platforms?
  • Asking questions based in compassion, curiosity, and inquiry, rather than monitoring and surveillance.

This article was written by Desmond Patton, William Frey and Kyle McGregor. Researchers at the SAFElab at Columbia University

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