Facebook Live’s Connection to Crime

Posted February 20th, 2018 by .

Categories: Legal Topics.

facebook live
By Guest Blogger Attorney John F. Marchiano

Facebook has changed the way we live, work and play, but it has also added a new dimension to crime. Facebook Live has been used to broadcast numerous acts of violence in real-time, leading to questions about censorship, legal obligations of those who viewed a crime online, and Facebook’s responsibility for content it publishes.

What Is Facebook Live?

Introduced in 2015, Facebook Live is a feature that allows users to broadcast live video streams to their friends and followers, who can then share it with their own followers. A video stream can quickly “go viral” as it spreads between networks.

Online media outlets may write about a stream as well, giving it more attention and increasing its viewership.

Facebook Live’s Connection to Crime: What’s the Problem?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook Live has been used to broadcast over fifty violent incidents worldwide as of March 2017. Thanks to its ease of use and the potential for a mass viewership, Facebook Live has proven to be an attractive medium for those using illegal means to obtain their fifteen minutes of fame.

A wide range of criminal acts have been broadcast on Facebook Live, including shootings and sexual violence. Many of these acts appear to have been done for the gratification of an audience. Advocate groups now ask if Facebook Live effectively incentivizes these acts by providing a platform for easily shareable sensational content.

What is Facebook Doing About It?

Many people have called on Facebook to limit the sharing of criminal content. In doing so, this will prevent users from being exposed to it while making it more difficult for criminals to showcase their heinous acts. Unfortunately, change sometimes happens at a less than acceptable pace.

Take the case of April 16, 2017 shooting of a man in Cleveland, which was recorded and posted to Facebook Live as part of a larger intended crime spree. Facebook released a statement in which they outlined several steps they say they will take to combat the spread of similar videos.

Facebook intends to hire more personnel to monitor live videos in order to find apparently criminal acts. This is instead of relying primarily on complaints, many of which are only filed well after a video has been archived. Facebook also intends to use artificial intelligence to find and delete violent videos which violated its community guidelines.

Unfortunately, the timeline for this all-inclusive monitoring initiative will take a couple of years to implement.

Criminal Implications

Facebook Live has raised numerous questions about how criminal law will respond to the many challenges posed by social media. Facebook itself seems well-protected from legal repercussions from the content it hosts due to the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Questions still remain as to whether or not new laws should be enacted to deter people from using Facebook Live or other social media streaming services to broadcast their crimes. Some have suggested treating crimes shared on social media more harshly in order to deter those who might commit a crime to seek fame.

Observers have questioned whether those who view crime videos can be charged with a crime. They’re unclear under what jurisdiction they might be charged.

A much more compelling case can be made under current laws involving child abuse. Unfortunately, there appear to be few, if any laws which could be brought against those who witness crimes online involving adults.

There are few Good Samaritan laws requiring witnesses to report a crime. Currently, how many might be enforced online remains unsettled.

John F. Marchiano Law Corp. is Henderson’s oldest law firm. John has over 35 years of professional experience providing personalized, criminal defense representation to residents of Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada.


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