Facebook has quietly killed off a map to discover live videos


Facebook’s live video card

Facebook screenshot by Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The map on Facebook showed blue dots scattered around the world. When users clicked on it, live videos appeared.

Timothy Ballisty, an independent meteorologist, used to scan the live video map during tornadoes, hurricanes and snow storms, hoping to get a glimpse of what was happening in real time. Then Ballisty noticed earlier this month that the card was missing. Facebook killed off the feature late last year, but Ballisty and other users are just noticing.

The map link now directs visitors to Facebook Watch, the social network’s video hub. Ballisty says it’s harder for him to find the live videos he’s looking for because he has to follow specific Facebook pages for storm chasers instead of just browsing a map.

“Take [the live map] going without fanfare kind of surprised me,” said Ballisty, who lives in North Carolina. “It was a very useful feature.

Ballisty isn’t the only user mourning the tool’s demise. Users took the social network help forum ask what happened to live map and implores the social network of bring it back. Some have speculated that Facebook got rid of the card because it didn’t want users to see atrocities being broadcast live on the social network, an ongoing problem.

The removal of the feature comes amid growing scrutiny of the place of live video in society. What was once a tool for broadcasting silly stunts or personally important events has become a portal to murder, suicide and violence. In March, after the map disappeared, a terrorist suspect used Facebook Live to broadcast mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques that left 51 people dead. Facebook has struggled with the issue for years, and it remains a problem.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company shut down the map because it wanted to consolidate its video pages, adding that the live map had “low” usage. The spokeswoman declined to provide usage statistics. Users can still find live videos in Watch and on their News Feeds, she said.

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Other social media sites, including Periscope and Twitter’s Snapchat, have maps for discovering live video. But Facebook’s size makes it harder to control the amount of offensive content circulating on its site. About 2.38 billion people log in to Facebook every month.

YouTube, the Google-owned video-sharing service that has 2 billion viewers logged in each month, has a channel to experience live videos but does not display them on a map.

“It makes sense for Facebook to pull back on things that put it at higher risk,” said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. Location, he said, is an “extremely powerful piece of data” and live video can be exploited by criminals, terrorists and other bad actors as was the case in New Zealand.

The Facebook spokeswoman said the card was not discontinued for security or privacy reasons.

Facebook unveiled the live video card, which was only available on desktop, in a 2016 blog post. The map, the company said, “gives you a window into what’s happening in the world right now.”

In December, Facebook said it was trying to “unify the video experienceon the social network, but did not mention that it was phasing out the live video card.

Live video was displayed on the map if users marked a broadcast as public and shared their location. It debuted with mixed reviews, sometimes in the same review. TrustedReviews called the live map both “impressive” and “frightening”. A Gizmodo reporter, who said she used the map to stalk strangers for six hours, called the live videos “novels, voyeurists, fascinating trash.”

Brin McLaughlin from California said in an email that she liked using the Facebook Live map because it was “a not too curated overview of people’s shows around the world.”

She saw a baby being born in Quebec, covering an eclipse in Oregon and a street fair in the Canary Islands. On Facebook Watch these days, McLaughlin said she doesn’t see the same variety of videos.

When the card disappeared months ago, the Facebook user noticed it right away.

“I also fully understand the specific liability issues around live streams, and why Facebook chose to do it this way,” she said. “I just wish they still gave responsible users the ability to use the card.”


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