Technology

From watermelons to shootings: When live-streaming got serious

TJ Williams Image copyright TJ Williams

Another shooting in the US has been live-streamed on Facebook.

On Tuesday 12 July TJ Williams was live-streaming himself and friends. In the video - which contains some distressing scenes and strong language - three men in Virginia, USA are rapping along to music playing in a car. Then shots are fired and the phone falls to the floor.

This is the second shooting to appear on Facebook Live in a week. On 6 July Lavish Reynolds used Facebook Live to capture the disturbing moments after her boyfriend was shot by a police officer in Minnesota.

It seems that live-streaming has just taken a very serious turn. What does this mean for audiences and for the future of streaming?

Watermelons and Chewbacca

Live-streaming is relatively new; platforms like Meerkat and Periscope launched in early 2015. Facebook Live let verified accounts live-stream in August 2015 and now everyone with a Facebook account can join in.

When live-streaming began on social media it could be fun. Who could forget the exploding watermelon? Produced by Buzzfeed for a Facebook Live, where rubber bands were placed on the fruit till it exploded. It was the most watched live stream in Facebook history, racking up nearly 10 million views. That is until the woman in the Chewbacca mask.

Image copyright Candace Payne, Facebook
Image caption What began as a simple trip to a department store turned into a record-breaking Facebook live stream

Candace Payne streamed footage from a car park immediately after purchasing a Chewbacca mask. It has broken the record as the most-watched Facebook Live video - ever. More than 158 million people have watched Candace wear the mask and laugh hysterically at herself.

But as has been seen recently, there have been some very distressing videos which have been live-streamed. A woman in France filmed her suicide on Periscope earlier this year. Commentators and journalists there began to unpick the role Periscope might have played and whether more could have been done to help her. Twitter, which owns Periscope, did take the video down.

And the horrific scene as the gunman in Dallas began his rampage earlier this week was also captured and instantly broadcast on Facebook by a photographer named Michael Kevin Bautista.

Image copyright Michael Kevin Bautista

The BBC has its own set of guidelines about not only what sort of things we live-stream, but the footage we use from other people's live streams.

Other companies also recognise a need for safeguards.

Facebook has a set of community standards which include:

"Helping to keep you safe: We remove content, disable accounts and work with law enforcement when we believe that there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.

"Encouraging respectful behaviour: To help balance the needs, safety and interests of a diverse community, we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it."

Periscope also has strict guidelines about content that is allowed and also provides a link to allow users to report issues. It does not monitor the feeds around the clock, although it has previously said that it was able to respond "within minutes".

Meerkat also offers community guidelines which are suggestions for how its community should behave to make it a "happy and vibrant one".

The company says says: "All people watching Meerkat streams, whether they come from the app or web are required to authenticate before they can watch a live stream. It's important to us that the broadcaster understands who is watching and participating."

"I'm in tears this is so sad. What its wrong with people?"

Live-streaming will clearly play a large role in the future of social media, but what are the wider considerations around its use? What impact does watching a shooting live on your Facebook stream have on you?

Police in Norfolk, Virginia have said that all three men involved in Wednesday's shooting have been taken to hospital - two with life threatening injuries.

Over 2,000 people have shared the latest shooting video - including people who are friends with TJ Williams on Facebook.

Friends who were watching the live stream as it happened commented - as it happened:

"His phone still recording OMG"

"I'm in tears this is so sad. What its wrong with people? Lord let them be ok."

"OMG TJ pull thru I'm praying for you"

Written by Kerry Alexandra and Rozina Sini from the BBC UGC & Social Team

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