Social live streaming: A new medium for terrorist propaganda?


Meerkat and Periscope have opened the doors for social live streaming, and now even Tumblr and all the major social sites are vying for market share. However, a live feed is harder to moderate, and it seems that live streaming has already become an avenue for terrorism and propaganda.

Forbes columnist Kathleen Chaykowski reported that a recent terror suspect live-streamed via Facebook Live from the scene of a murder and hostage situation last week, and threats of terror attacks against soccer tournament EUFA EURO 2016 were also posted. Both were removed, but not before being seen by other Facebook users.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement:

We are working closely with the French authorities as they deal with this terrible crime. Terrorists and acts of terrorism have no place on Facebook. Whenever terrorist content is reported to us, we remove it as quickly as possible. We treat takedown requests by law enforcement with the highest urgency.

Social networks are constantly facing users uploading and sharing content from terrorists, and live streaming provides another medium for content which may be harder to police than others. Community reporting and automatic detection can help curb most offending content on social networks, but when that content is live, a site would need a constant moderation team ready to shut down any offending stream if they hoped to get ahead of the problem.

Chaykowski noted that Facebook already has a 24-hour moderation team. Unfortunately, that may not be enough to silence the use of live streaming by terrorists and help get information to relevant authorities. According to the journal Science, a team of researchers developed a method for identifying patterns in pro-terrorist groups and created an algorithm that could be used to predict future behavior from these groups.

Algorithms could be a helpful tool, but it’s practically impossible to totally eliminate this kind of content from social sites now that extremist groups have realized the power of social. If live streaming is to be a way for users to broadcast and interact with immediacy, any significant impediment to broadcasting could hamper the experience.

In essence, social networks are content gatekeepers, and some have been accused of abusing their position of power. There’s a fine line social platforms walk by including live streaming in their suite of tools, between immediacy and control, and between moderation and open communication.