In the time of post-truth, more and more people disbelieve the news that comes from the major news outlets, and polls are ever-harder to believe, having been proved so wrong on such events as the American election and Brexit. Citizen journalism is growing into a powerful movement, giving people an opportunity for testimony unfiltered by the media’s lens, using social media, such as Facebook’s live stream.
While Facebook’s Live feature was initially designed for professional video creators, it’s now available to everyone and plays a pivotal role in Facebook’s planned growth over the next decade. As well as streaming live video from smartphones, you can now stream direct from your webcam or by sharing what's on screen.
With more than a billion daily active users – and two-thirds saying they get their news updates from the site – it’s easy to see why Facebook’s live-streamed video might start to have such a big impact.
The speed and reactivity of live feeds on social media means that along with all the insider insights from events, it’s easy for people spreading fake news to get their distorted message out just as quickly. Journalists can pick up on this and mistakenly report it as fact. This incorrect information then snowballs as it is shared and retweeted.
The First Draft Coalition was established in 2015 to raise awareness and address challenges relating to trust and truth in the digital age. Alastair Reid, Managing Editor of First Draft News, writes that; “The shockwave of information around a breaking news event travels faster and further than at any time in human history. This is the blessing and the curse social media bestows. With that torrent in communication comes the confusion and mayhem which is an inevitable by-product of the search for truth. People cling to rumour to make sense of trauma.”
In light of this, Facebook has started rolling out a third-party fact-checking tool which alerts users to ‘disputed content’, though this feature isn’t yet available to everyone.
The unfiltered truth
Adding a live element to a broadcast makes it far more compelling. As human beings we’re conditioned to hear stories, and those in the first person are especially urgent, as people working for charities know. If somebody who is not an official journalist covers a story, it somehow feels more real.
Going live was initially envisioned as a fun and spontaneous way to share what’s going on in your life with your friends and family, however, once people realised it was a way to share information, good and bad, with no filter, questions of safety and ethics began to arise.
The good, bad and ugly
There is no shield from these live broadcasts. Live broadcasts used to need TV cameras, camera trucks and satellites. Today all you need to do is tap the screen. Along with holiday videos, disturbing content can now be easily broadcast; recently examples include the sexual assault of a woman in Sweden and a knife attack of a man in America.
On the other hand, live testimony can also be used to let people know about events, such as the Dakota Pipeline protests, that weren’t being covered by the major news outlets. It has also helped to bring the perpetrators of the crimes mentioned above to justice.
The Facebook Journalism Project
Live-streaming video on social media forces us to consider how we define journalism, and Facebook obviously agrees, as they have recently launched The Facebook Journalism Project, to try to combat the spread of fake news. Fidji Simo, Director of the Product says; “We know that our community values sharing and discussing ideas and news, and as a part of our service, we care a great deal about making sure that a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive.” So there is clearly good intent but to judge their effectiveness, we’ll have to wait and see.