Was that spacewalk or climbing a massive antenna tower really filmed on Facebook Live? No. Is the purpose of Facebook Live to display a virtual clock counting down to the new year? No. Still, these are some of the videos that have twistedly benefited from notifications and additional News Feed visibility from Facebook Live posts.
Facebook’s fake news problem isn’t limited to text posts. Social media-specific outlets like Interestinate and large Facebook-paid publishers like BuzzFeed are abusing the live video format to grow their audience and attract new subscribers. 5 of the Top 10 Facebook Live Videos from 2016 were just graphic counterslike countdowns and polls.
Asked about the fight against abuse of the Live format, Facebook pointed me to a single line in its platform policy which says “Make sure any pre-recorded content is clearly distinguishable from live content.” Facebook also admits to posting but never announced any December 6 Update to a March 2016 blog post about videos getting extra exposure in live streams. It says:
We’ve heard comments from people that they don’t find graphic-only polls an interesting type of live content – for example, “Press Love for Peanut Butter, Haha for Jelly” where the whole stream consists of static or looping graphics or images. Given this feedback, we are now taking steps to reduce the visibility of live streams that consist entirely of graphics with voting. If you post a live video with graphic-only polls, it may not appear as high in users’ newsfeeds.
Now TechCrunch has learned that Facebook is considering reducing the presence in the feed of more “live” videos that aren’t actually live, specifically in an effort to discourage “countdown” videos that don’t use no survey but are just a graph.
But to really fix the problem, Facebook needs a strong policy on Live and how it will punish violators.
For a limited time only!
It only took a year for fake live videos to start becoming a serious problem. In late October 2016, several viral Facebook pages, including Viral USA, Interestinate, and Unilad, posted an allegedly live video of a spacewalk on the International Space Station that was actually recorded in 2013. Unilad’s version received over 19 million views and was never taken down. This page now has 23 million subscribers, showing that fake live content can help publishers build an audience.
A few days later, Interestinate was back with a live video claiming to be someone climbing an incredibly tall tower to “replace a light bulb.” The clip was from a year earlier and actually showed someone inspecting a digital radio antenna. The 18-minute clip was looped multiple times to make it the maximum length for live videos – four hours – giving the stream time to build a growing audience. He received at least 6.7 million views. The clip has since been deleted.
These fake videos are clearly designed to trick audiences and rack up views, but there’s also a less well-defined issue of what Facebook Live is supposed to be used for. For example, should live videos use real footage rather than just a CGI?
While Facebook Live is often used for monologues, Q&As, citizen journalism, event coverage, and entertainment, some publishers simply rig the graphics to run for the maximum four-hour broadcast time. . BuzzFeed scored 11 million views with this “Countdown to 2016 is finally over”. The four-hour message released five days before the start of 2017 is just a countdown on a looping graph of a fire.
While maybe fun for a moment, it seems a far cry from what Facebook had in mind for Live.
Fight the undead
It’s time for Facebook to establish clear rules for Live to protect users’ attention and prevent stream gambling. Right now, the closest Facebook has come to a live policy is that this content must adhere to its standard content policiesand this statement buried in the Live API FAQ:
Can I add pre-recorded video to a live post?
We encourage all live streams to contain exclusively live content to maintain the integrity of the viewer’s experience. However, there are unique cases in which cutting out a pre-recorded clip makes sense, similar to how a news broadcast might show previously recorded content on live television.
Facebook will have to do more than “encourage” good behavior to prevent publishers from abusing Live. It should spell out clear policies on what’s allowed and what’s not, with consequences for accounts that break the rules that go beyond simply deleting the offending video alone.
Here are some suggestions for these rules:
- Live streams must start and end live and consist primarily of live content
- All recorded content shown on Live must include a clearly visible disclaimer stating when it was shot
- Live streams must not contain extended full-screen shots of predefined graphics
- Content on a computer screen, such as streaming video games, needs to be created in real time when live streaming
- Users should be allowed to flag fake live videos as not live
- Facebook should detect fake live videos by looking for comments like “not live”
- Videos that violate these rules will be deleted
- Publishers who post videos that violate these policies will be punished by having their Facebook Page’s entire News Feed visibility reduced or their ability to live stream removed.
By formalizing its exact policies and putting the threat of punishment behind them, Facebook can ensure that users’ feeds and notifications aren’t clogged with canned content masquerading as Live.
Facebook has just hired a chief information officer, a former TV presenter Campbell Brown, but it focuses on partnerships, not politics. With all of the textual misinformation, censorship decisions, challenges of avoiding bias, and emerging issues with new formats, Facebook needs a “chief information officer.” Policy” more than ever.