The ethics of live video

The authenticity of live videos is apparent as they have the special feature of being live. Despite unknown to many, live videos have been around for a long time, but in recent times and particularly over the past 2 years, they have taken off on a global scale and are certainly a force to be acquainted with. Live Videos have the ability to engage the audience in a way no other form of video can, not least because they are live and in real time.

Social media platforms have jumped at the phenomenon of Live Video to allow their users to explore and experience situations and events as they occur. The most common live video features are possibly ‘Facebook Live’ and ‘Periscope’. What happens if live video is used incorrectly? What if a live video features inappropriate content, such as torture or child pornography? Or when they contain under-aged persons, or people who have not given their consent to appearing in the video? While the live video comes with a lot of pros, the cons cannot be neglected. Hence, there is the need minimize the probability of horrendous content emerging on the internet especially, and avoid unintended consequences for those who published that content.

A panel at the International Journalism Festival discussed live video with a focus no the ethics of it. It gathered the editor at Channel 4 News Ben de Pear, Social Media editor at BBC News, Mark Frankel, Global English lead for Twitter Moments, Joanna Geary, Head of news at Storyful, Mandy Jenkins, and Sue Llewellyn who is a digital strategy consultant. The panel takes the discussion one step further and places the emphasis on the need of a clear distinction between ordinary people and journalists using live video: with journalists carrying a bigger responsibility then other professionals.

Frankel starts the discussion by asserting that live video is far from new but has evolved tremendously within the past year, turning “into something that is horrific and challenging simultaneously”. He points out that the BBC mostly uses live video for Breaking News and therefore have the challenge of ensuring that their videos are both responsible and fascinating. He says that the danger of that is that “it can quickly descend to vouyerism.” What he also finds interesting concerning live video is their comments section, as it allows the BBC to take notice of what the audience points out, for instance the audio or something else that the editors might have overlooked. Frankel asserts that journalists do not stop being journalists when they are live streaming: there is still an ethical code to follow and “put into context what is unfolding” before the eyes of the audience. He mentions that the current problem with Facebook Live is that it cannot be filtered sorting out the location of the videos when someone claims to be an eyewitness of an event.

Ben de Pear discusses the unfortunate incident of when Channel 4 made a “stupid decision to stream a live feed of Mosul” on Facebook Live when the feature was still relatively new. He states that they [Channel 4] did not handle the situation properly after the incident, by defending their decision when it had been in fact the wrong thing to do. He states that Channel 4 uses Facebook Live to get more context from correspondents and experts on various topics and says that they need to be very careful not to expose sources during those live streams.

Jenkins states that in some ways it is easier to verify the content of live videos than non-live videos, as they allow interaction with the person who is recording the video. This said, “the same standards apply” for the verification process, and you need to identify the motives and drivers behind any video-maker. Furthermore, she states that live videos can be tricky because some people record other screens making it look as if the content originates from them, therefore you should always ask yourself the question of “What do I know about this source?” and try to find out all you can about them. Jenkins concludes that if one does not have enough answers on a video, then the video should not be put online.

Geary comments that anyone who seeks to bring a piece of social content to a wide audience “has a duty of care”. She says that the risk profile has to be assessed and other important questions must be answered before one decides to live stream. Geary states that “we also have a duty towards the curator” and a “to care for the person creating that content”. She says that one should not underestimate how unprepared people are sometimes when they get their phones out and make a decision to live stream a video.

To wrap up, it is surely crucial to consider the ethics of Live video before streaming, and ignoring those ethics carries significant risks.