The moral problem with Facebook Live (Hint: It's child porn)

It has been hard to read the news recently without coming across the varying tragedies which have been broadcast on Facebook Live.

There has been murders and suicides. And people watched.

The internet has always had a place for this kind of 'content’ - that word we use when we want to distance ourselves from the reality of human lives as presented on the internet - but in the past it has been hosted on places like liveleaks, obscure forums and picture boards or, more recently, on the so called “dark web".

Facebook, however, is a different kind of space on the internet. It's the predominant social ecosystem for the majority of 'normal' internet users. It's different even from YouTube in this regard because of the way that it is socially conceived. Youtube is the new TV (along with Netflix and co). It's Channels which tend to be thematic; whether that theme centres on a genre or a personality. The user experience is one of consumption and choice. YouTube is the new Media. Facebook is the definition of “Social Media".

Your connections, friends, family, acquaintances, news and cultural personalities form a digital re-creation of your own social matrix of relationships - with a element of personal projection and idealism.

This means that although both platforms offer the ability to live-stream video from your account, the environment that stream is received in is drastically different. A stream which results in a suicide on Facebook Live is seen first by those with some kind of connection to the person streaming - sometimes with barely any warning.

On Television the divide between “live” and “prerecorded” broadcasts is quite distinct, and the presenters and editorial team will often issue an immediate apology or cut the feed should something go wrong.

On Facebook Live, the stream of a suicide by a stationary camera can continue to broadcast long after the person's death. One of the main criticisms of Facebook has been the amount of time it has taken to respond to the stream being reported and to take it down.

But how can they do any different?

They have processes and systems. First there is content, then it is flagged (by a user) and then it has to be checked and acted upon. To automatically hide a video on being reported would mean that the report feature would be heavily abused to temporarily 'bring down' any content by trolls. This would swamp the process, not streamline it.

I expect that Facebook will continue to recommit to improving their response times in order to maintain 'community standards'. But I don't think that the temporary outrage over these incidents will cause any drastic overhaul of the system.

What will (should!) force them to rethink their Facebook Live service is allegations and possible lawsuits concerning child pornography.

Forget the paedophile secret groups and messages that undoubtedly exist on Facebook. They are reprehensible but not what I'm thinking of. The issue will come from minors themselves and reflects the way in which the culture of young people and technology intersect.

I have seen myself the difference that instant messaging applications have completely changed the expectations and speed of communications. This was made painfully obvious to myself and my parents when as a teenager an argument escalated with a friend of mine faster than they could reflect on and decide what to do. This generational shift with technology is always occurring and the honest truth is that at 24 I'm already out of touch with how teenagers use and consider technology within their everyday relationships.

Growing up has always been a tricky process of navigating changing expectations and responsibilities. With the internet, smartphones and Facebook Live this process of growing up is more public than ever.

And that includes drunken underaged kids making mistakes.

At a party where everyone has a camera and an internet connection the odds of someone being filmed and broadcast live onto the internet as they make the same kind of hormonal indiscretions as teenagers always have approaches one. It's going to happen. Even if it doesn't happen at the party your son, daughter, brother or sister goes to, it will happen at a parties across not just the county but the world. To complicate things, they could be making legal decisions themselves but by being broadcast it becomes illegal content of underaged persons. And this example is at the tamer end of the spectrum. What about when kids stream walking in on a couple in the bathrooms at school? What about filming truth or dare? What about any number of not just plausible but likely scenarios? Frankly, schoolchildren across the world have committed suicide over similar kinds of exposure on social media.

Facebook cannot sustain a service on its platform which risks essentially broadcasting child porn. Presumably those who violate the community standards will be banned. In a culture where being on social media is the norm, the social consequences for those who do not have an account can be far reaching and unexpected. I should know, I voluntarily deleted my account over a year ago. (That’s a separate story).

One option would be to restrict the Facebook Live feature to anyone who is under the legal age in their country. But how would this be enforced? Anyone can put a false age in. Would this require legal verification of identity? That in itself enters the murky waters surrounding the freedom of the internet and the right to pursue anonymity online. Could you imagine the advertising value of the data from social media accounts that are verified using legal identification?

Another element that needs to be stressed is the education of young people in how to protect themselves online. Courses on privacy and managing personal data should be treated as 'core' modules alongside science, math, and English. This world is only going to become more technological, more instantaneously immediate and growing up in this world is going to be pressurised to say the least.

It will be impossible to prevent (underage) sexual or violent streams being uploaded on the internet, but the possibility of it appearing live within anyone's Facebook news feed is a wholly different situation; especially as if it happens it will likely happen to the people that you know, you might not have the choice to not see it - and you can't unsee it. I would argue that this is immoral. I have friends who are who are perturbed and uncomfortable with Facebook because of this one issue.

A friend of mine told me that they quit Facebook this week because of the awful story of the father who first hanged his baby daughter, and then hanged himself. “That’s just evil", he said, “I can't participate in a platform where that can happen".