Live Video — Facebook’s Savior?

I am not a lizard! — Zuckerberg

Inundated with the “fake news” problem, a lot of people have recently started to question the viability of Facebook as a relevant platform in the upcoming years — people just don’t trust it anymore, like they used to. Sure, there’s a few billion people on there now, but there’s nothing really stopping anyone from moving onto another platform if the will to do so is there. Are we going to see a mass migration towards something newer and more exciting in the near future?

Facebook has recently been putting a lot of resources and effort into promoting their “Live Video” feature, which I’m sure you’ve already seen if you’ve logged into their site recently. It might seem like a silly little tool to most people right now, but I do believe that they’re taking the right approach: Facebook Live might actually become the unlikely savior of the company if they can manage to execute on it well. People don’t trust anything they see in the media these days, but live broadcasting has the sort of authenticity and directness that could potentially renew people’s sense of trust in what online content has to provide.

I’ve been doing live streams on games and music jams on YouTube and Twitch for a while now, and I’ve been hooked because there’s something to it that you just can’t get anywhere else: a place where you can get rewarded for just being yourself. Live broadcasting removes most of the pretensions, premeditations, and identity-signaling that goes into making online content, serving as a strong antidote to the over-exaggerations and truth-stretchings that have now become the norm.

But Live Video’s existence on Facebook feels a bit…weird, to say the least. From the beginning, we’ve all been playing status-seeking games based around the concept of the “status update”, so introducing a feature that runs counter to everything we’ve been taught up to this point seems odd and counter-intuitive. We’re used to hand-picking the best and most exciting pictures and videos to share to our friends, and now we’re asked to just present things as they are? “Preposterous!”, says the imagined strawman FB user that popped into my mind just now.

On a technical level, Facebook Live’s execution is nearly flawless. Out of the several platforms that I reviewed so far, it was always the most consistent and reliable, which serves as a testament to the company’s engineering prowess. But Facebook’s struggle to get people to actually use it is mostly a cultural problem: users seem mostly confused by the new addition, rather than liking it or hating it. This is not a good thing, since it could lead to a type of indifference that could kill the entire project in the long run.

I know that a lot of people are probably feeling pretty pessimistic about politics (and the world) in general right now, but I still do reserve a sense of hope: the fact that live streaming is very popular among young people is a sign that the future generations know how to seek the truth when needed. It basically comes down to if the rest of us can unlearn some of the things we’ve gotten ourselves into, and be disciplined enough not to add more to the noise that already exists. In order to do that, we have to create products, platforms, and features that allow us to have more direct, truthful, and honest dialogues with one another.

Whether it ends up being Facebook, YouTube (Google), Twitch (Amazon), or Snapchat — the trend towards the live experience is a very real thing. It’s the logical conclusion of social media’s evolution (shorter and shorter response times) while simultaneously offering an alternative way of doing online interactions during a time when alternatives are being sought. It’s hard to imagine a world where the “fake news” problem can be solved without the use of live video, because it exists as an obvious solution to an obvious problem, if only the cultural blocks can be overcome.

We can think of Facebook’s gamble on the FB Live feature as a metaphor for its attempts at self-improvement: will the company be able to adapt to the cultural changes coming its way, or will it stick to its old habits and be left behind? Only time will tell.