Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 13th of those posts. Avery Williams is a junior studying editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the campus editor at The Tab – UNC, an online newspaper.
Facebook Live was launched in April 2016 as a reaction to consumers of media becoming media producers themselves. More than ever, major news events are filmed by civilians on their smartphones and shared with their friends and followers. News outlets have picked up on this trend and now use Facebook Live for many of their own events or coverage, including using Facebook Live footage from their viewers for their own news coverage.
Using Facebook Live rather than posted a video shortly after recording it has some benefits. This function allows the user to see how many people are currently watching them as well as any likes or comments along the way. If a comment brings up a certain question, the person(s) in the Facebook Live video has the ability to respond in real time. It has become a popular tool to many since its launch, especially to those with a large following.
What started out as a way to better interaction and interconnectedness has now shown some of its negative side effects. On Easter Sunday 2017, Steven Stephens killed an elderly man and recorded the entire ordeal and posted it to Facebook. He later allegedly posted several videos bragging about killing more random civilians throughout the day.
Close friends of Stephens say they have no idea what the motivation could have been and have never noticed violent tendencies or clues toward this behavior.
Facebook has come out saying the video of the homicide was not live, but other videos throughout the day were. Even if this particular event was not done through Facebook Live, this opens the question of what would happen if it actually were.
Social media sites have a certain responsibility to censor posts to their viewers without too much restriction, but Facebook Live has always been in the moment with no previous review, censorship or filtration.
Even if this homicide was not committed on Facebook Live, it has proven that this could very possibly occur on the social media site.
Should users have this much power? Is no censorship and the ability to go live socially responsible for everyone, or should only trusted sources and media organizations have this power?
Many may argue that Facebook Live does more harm than good, allowing entertainers and public figures alike a chance to speak to their audience directly in real time. The issues that have now arisen deal with what happens when this power gets into the wrong hands. This is certainly not the first time illegal activity was filmed on Facebook Live, and it will not be the last.
Steven Stephens was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot on April 18, two days after the homicide.