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The world turns against live streaming

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On June 22nd, 2016, Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the floor of Congres
 
April 3 · Issue #309 · View online
The Interface
On June 22nd, 2016, Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the floor of Congress. Days before, a man had murdered 49 people and injured 53 others in a shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and Democrats organized a protest in an effort to pass gun control legislation. Republicans, hoping to reduce the impact of the Democrats’ publicity stunt, ordered C-SPAN not to turn on its cameras and broadcast the protest. But Democrats didn’t need a broadcasting partner: they had smartphones. Periscope and Facebook Live, which had both been introduced within the past year, allowed members of Congress to broadcast the protests themselves.
It was a thrilling moment. C-SPAN cleverly re-broadcast the streams, and the incident garnered outsized national attention — if, sadly, no action — for the Democrats’ cause. In the aftermath of the stunt, Republicans passed new rules banning the taking of photographs and videos on the House floor. Anyone who violated the rules would now be subject to a fine. A tool meant to democratize broadcasting had been blunted by the democracy.
I thought of the sit-in this week when reading about Australia’s proposal to make Facebook and other tech platforms criminally liable for all the live video they publish. Cat Zakrzewski reports in the Washington Post:
Australia is considering hefty fines and even jail time for executives at social media companies who fail to remove violent content quickly. The proposal is one of the most sweeping crackdowns on tech companies’ content moderation efforts that policymakers in a democratic government have ever considered.
The new legislation, to be introduced this week, would fine companies up to 10 percent of their annual revenue and calls for up to three years in jail — and comes as Australian officials slammed social media companies such as Facebook for failing to offer immediate solutions after violent videos of the New Zealand shooting proliferated online
Tools that democratize the sharing of information have followed a familiar pattern. First they are discovered by the early adopters, who use them generally for good; then they are discovered by criminals, who exploit them relentlessly. The Arab Spring, which was organized and promoted on social platforms, led directly to the events of 2016, as foreign states learned the platforms could be used to distort public discussions and interfere with elections.
From the start, live-streaming tools raised concerns about the frequency with which they are used to broadcast self-harm and other violent episodes. With the Christchurch shooting, we seem to have reached the end point of all newly democratized communications tools: its usage for unabashed terrorism.
In response, lawmakers around the world are now pressuring Facebook to err on the side of removing live streams, with the threat of stiff penalties if they don’t. And while I don’t expect the United States to consider any such legislation soon, the movement is picking up steam in Europe as well as in Oceania, and could lead to a further splintering of the internet.
Perhaps Facebook will hire the moderators and build the artificial intelligence necessary to adapt to these regulations — or perhaps it will simply make Facebook Live unavailable in those countries. If it does, it’s worth remembering that live broadcasts have been a powerful, pro-democracy tool in this country and others — and that regulations drafted in haste and passed in anger might cost us the kind of freedom that those House Democrats found so useful, and not that long ago.

Democracy
Facebook's Efforts 'Not Nearly Sufficient' in Genocide-Torn Myanmar, UN Investigator Says
The Tip Line WhatsApp Launched To Combat Fake News Isn’t Actually Going To Combat Fake News
Facebook Says White Nationalist Video Doesn’t Break New Policy Against White Nationalism
Twitter and YouTube Won’t Commit to Ban White Nationalism After Facebook Makes Policy Switch
Twitter's Jack Dorsey Adds His Support to Regulation in Tech
Singapore Plans Law to Fight False News, but Critics Fear Repression
'Grassroots' Facebook Brexit ads secretly run by staff of Lynton Crosby firm
Why did Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund offer up to €50,000 to a mouthpiece of Hungary’s authoritarian government?
Brazilian TV Station Aired 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' With Dialogue That Supports President of Brazil
Elsewhere
Losing Face: Two More Cases of Third-Party Facebook App Data Exposure
‘Beyond Sketchy’: Facebook Demanding Some New Users’ Email Passwords
WhatsApp’s Brian Acton to talk Signal Foundation and leaving Facebook at Disrupt SF
The Hunt for False News: EU Edition
Old, Online, And Fed On Lies: How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet
Launches
Snapchat tests new Bitmoji status feature within Snap Map
Podcast
Longform Podcast #337: Casey Newton
Takes
Big Tech’s Original Sin
And finally ...
Justice Department says attempts to prevent Netflix from Oscars eligibility could violate antitrust law
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and pro-democracy Periscopes: casey@theverge.com.
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