As Live-Streaming Of Violent Events Becomes More Common, How Are Social Media Companies Handling It?

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile of St. Paul, cries outside the governor’s residence in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Castile was shot and killed after a traffic stop by police in Falcon Heights, Wednesday night. A video shot by Reynolds of the shooting went viral. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM MONE
Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile of St. Paul, cries outside the governor’s residence in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Castile was shot and killed after a traffic stop by police in Falcon Heights, Wednesday night. A video shot by Reynolds of the shooting went viral. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JIM MONE

The aftermath of the police shooting of Philando Castile, 32, was broadcast to the world when his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds used Facebook Live to document the traffic stop turned fatal in St. Paul, Minnesota. Castile’s death is the latest of a string of police-involved shootings of African Americans, but it’s also part of a growing trend: live-streaming violent events. And social media companies are now being scrutinized for how they handle them.

Reynolds filmed for 10 minutes, starting just seconds after Castile was shot and slumped over in the driver’s seat, until her phone died. “The only thing y’all didn’t see is when he was shot,” she said during a subsequent Facebook Live broadcast Thursday.

Castile was shot after reaching for his wallet that held his license, registration, and concealed-carry gun permit requested by the officer. After the shooting, Reynolds’ video depicts the officer with his gun pointed at Castile exclaiming, “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up.” Castile later died from his injuries.

The live video, which Facebook stores and makes available for users to watch on demand, is a powerful reminder of the hostile realities the black community faces in its encounters with police. But it also highlights the fact that live video is an important new vehicle for communicating news events and instances of police brutality.


Camera phones have captured countless police-involved deaths: In response to the police-shooting death of Baton Rouge’s Alton Sterling Tuesday that was filmed by a bystander, Mike McClanahan, the president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP said during a press conference, “Thank god for the iPhone because without the iPhone they might have gotten away.”

Philando Castile’s Family Speaks Out: ‘It’s A Silent War Against African American People’Justice by CREDIT: CNN/Screenshot Hours after he was fatally shot by an officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, the…thinkprogress.orgLive-streaming is different, however, in that it emotionally thrusts viewers into the moment of an event, providing a heightened sense of awareness as it unfolds. The practice became mainstream in 2014 when Ferguson protesters used streaming to document police response following the controversial shooting death of Michael Brown.

It’s also unpredictable and, as Reynolds’ broadcast depicts, can unexpectedly show graphic and potentially offensive material.

Reynolds’ Facebook Live video was removed for about an hour, possibly because users reported its graphic nature. Facebook, however, contends that the video was accidentally removed due to a technical glitch and restored the video with a violent content warning once the error was identified, a spokesperson told ThinkProgress.

“We’re very sorry that the video was inaccessible,” Facebook told ThinkProgress and other media outlets in a statement. “It was down due to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”


The social network has been criticized before for its seemingly heavy-handed and uneven application of its community guidelines, which prohibit content that displays criminal, sexually gratuitous, or sensationally violent behavior.

Content flagged as offensive is reviewed on the case-by-case basis, and Facebook reserves the right to remove content if it is perceived to violate the community standards. Applying those standards, however, has proven to be a tricky task as Facebook tries to empower users to be citizen journalists and report their surroundings in real time, while also shielding others from potentially offensive content.

Facebook states this in its guidelines that also apply to live video:

Facebook has long been a place where people share their experiences and raise awareness about important issues. Sometimes, those experiences and issues involve violence and graphic images of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism. In many instances, when people share this type of content, they are condemning it or raising awareness about it. We remove graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.

The question of how to handle graphic content is more pressing now that 62 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook and the company has actively moved its focus toward media. Facebook has opened up its platform to publishers and embedded a strong video presence — now enhanced by the use of live-streaming video.

Over the past several years, live-streaming tools have been used to record deaths, rapes, and protests. Democratic congressmembers used Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope to record their sit-in protest for tougher gun regulations in June after CSPAN’s broadcasting was cut off.


It’s becoming second nature to broadcast one’s surroundings, and video-streaming is the simplest way to do that without worrying about uploading, deleting, or compromising a video file.

It’s also a way to help citizens reclaim their own narrative. As Reynolds reiterated during a second Facebook Live broadcast, she used the medium to elevate her voice and share her reality with the people, bypassing the media and police.

“I wanted everyone in the world to know that, no matter how much the police tamper with evidence, how much they stick together, they manipulate our minds to believe what they want, I wanted to put it on Facebook and go viral so that the people could see,” Reynolds said while speaking to reporters and a group of supporters on Thursday.

“I didn’t do it for pity. I didn’t do it for fame,” Reynolds told a reporter who asked her why she chose to live stream such a personal tragedy. “I did it so that the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us.”