Philando Castile [photo: Jim Mone/AP]

The day that Facebook Live changed (citizen) journalism

journalism festival
Jul 8, 2016 · 5 min read

edited by Marco Nurra

We’ve seen cellphone videos of the police killings of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and too many others. Earlier this week, the fatal police shooting of Louisiana man Alton Sterling was captured from two angles. Such imagery not only informs people about specific events, but also gives news organizations material to more aggressively challenge issues of police tactics and law enforcement internal accountability measures.

But just one day after Sterling’s death, a new variation emerged in the increasingly familiar genre. Past videos had allowed viewers to see uncut incidents of alleged brutality after the fact. Diamond Reynolds’s Facebook Live video Wednesday night, captured just seconds after her boyfriend Philando Castile was mortally wounded by a policeman during a traffic stop, did so in real-time. Even more striking was her measured narration of the bloody scene: Reynolds became a broadcaster.

“I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do, and how they roll,” she said in front of a group of reporters on Thursday. “I didn’t do it for pity. I didn’t do it for fame. I did it so that the world knows these police aren’t here to protect and serve us.” Reynolds was both victim and reporter — a citizen journalist, ultimately. […]

Facebook, for all the consternation it causes publishers, made possible the real-time transmission of this account to a massive audience. Just a year ago, Americans would likely have had to wait hours, if not days, to see such imagery — long enough for law enforcement agencies or police unions to rev up their own PR machines.

Reynolds understood this, maintaining composure as she broadcast live. After additional officers told her to exit the car to be handcuffed, she informs her audience, “They threw my phone, Facebook.” It’s only then that she breaks down, overcome with grief at the killing to which she bore witness for us all. [Columbia Journalism Review / David Uberti]

As a police officer holds a gun on Castile, who is covered in blood, Reynolds calmly describes how she and Castile and her 4-year-old daughter were pulled over for having a broken tail-light. She says Castile informed police that he was licensed to carry a firearm but was trying to produce his ID when the officer opened fire and shot him in the arm and stomach.

“They killed my boyfriend,” Reynolds says as she films herself talking into the camera, while periodically turning to show Castile and the officer holding a gun pointed at him. “He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket. And he let the officer know that he was — he had a firearm, and he was reaching for his wallet. And the officer just shot him.”

The video continues as Reynolds gets out of the car and is forced to kneel on the ground, where she is handcuffed. Her phone falls to the ground, but the camera continues to broadcast and a police officer can be heard swearing. Later, Reynolds cries “I can’t believe they did this!” and her daughter says “It’s OK, mommy. It’s OK, I’m right here with you.” […]

This appears to be the first time that the death of someone shot by police has been broadcast using Facebook’s live video feature, but it’s the second time a shooting death has been streamed live on the social network. Last month, Antonio Perkins broadcast his own death in a Chicago shooting. […]

In the past, these kinds of shootings might never have come to light because there was usually no hard evidence and police testimony is often given precedence over that of eyewitnesses. But now that everyone has a video camera in their hands, we are able to see such events more clearly. As disturbing as it might be, that’s probably a good thing. [Fortune / Methew Ingram]

The questions don’t end there. What does Facebook see as its role in events like last night’s live-streamed shooting? Has it developed a protocol for these situations? Is the protocol simply that if it is heavily flagged, the video is momentarily taken offline for screening/evaluation and then put up again with a “disturbing image” banner? Are there standards for capturing death on Facebook live? [BuzzFeed News / Charlie Warzel]

Facebook Needs A “Graphic But Newsworthy” Content Flag. Facebook must determine whether it’s willing to be a serious source of news, even if the content it shows is challenging or uncomfortable for some viewers seeking a more light-hearted experience. While it might seem like graphic content could scare away some users or advertisers, it could also make Facebook a more popular place for consumption and discussion of current events. [TechCrunch / Josh Constine]

Yes, social media platforms are businesses. They have no obligation to call their offerings “news” or to depict their judgments as editorial decisions. They are free to describe their missions as providing a global town square or creating a more connected globe.

But given their extraordinary influence, they do have an obligation to grapple, as transparently as possible, with extraordinary responsibility. [Washington Post / Margaret Sullivan]

What else we have read this week

📰 News and Facebook, Charlie Rose

👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 Young and old news consumers want to get their news in very different ways, says Pew, Nieman Lab

📹 Facebook is *really* boosting Live videos, Poynter

🌊 Shot by refugees… Exodus, the shocking documentary that puts you on the sinking ship, The Guardian

😰 Why reporting on refugee crises requires empathy for mental health issues, Columbia Journalism Review

🔔 Reporting on Islam, Nieman Reports

👑 Guardian’s Katharine Viner: ‘Social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful’, Digiday

🙏 How do you trawl through a 2.6 million-word report? The Guardian is asking its readers for help, Poynter

💰 A Boston journalism nonprofit is among the first publishers to sell subscriptions on Medium, Nieman Lab

🔔 The fact is, fact-checking can be better, American Press Institute

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International Journalism Festival is the biggest annual media event in Europe. It's an open invitation to interact with the best of world journalism. All sessions are free entry for all attendees. Come and join us!