When Facebook Live launched last April, the stream was quickly filled with everything from tedious video of a guy getting a haircut, to the joyous laughter of a howling mom in a Chewbacca mask. But we're not laughing now.
No one, including Mark Zuckerberg, imagined how the gimmicky new feature would factor so dramatically into the tragic events our country witnessed this week.
On Wednesday a Minnesota woman, Diamond Reynolds, went live on Facebook just moments after her fiancee, Philando Castille had been shot by police during a traffic stop. It was the second high-profile killing of a black man by law enforcement in as many days.
A few hours later as the unsettling video began to go viral, it suddenly disappeared from the social network. Facebook blamed a technical glitch and the video returned on Thursday morning.
Mark Zuckerberg posted to his own Facebook page: "While I hope we never have to see another video like Diamond's, it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important - and how far we still have to go."
Hours later, Facebook Live once again played an important role in a tragic and disturbing breaking news story. Dozens of people live streamed the horrific sniper attack that left five police officers dead in Dallas. The cops were killed while protecting a peaceful protest of the week's earlier shootings.
Do such shocking and emotionally charged videos glorify and perpetuate violence? Or does exposing the dark elements of our society lead to change?
With more than 1.6 billion users worldwide, "citizen journalists," armed with Facebook Live, can elevate the social network into the most powerful news channel in history. According to a recent Pew Research survey, two-thirds of American Facebook users say they use the site to get news.
By their own community standards, Facebook removes graphic content if it celebrates or glorifies violence. While there's an exception for images of public interest or concern, such a decision requires quick evaluation. Facebook is now struggling with their own social responsibility and the consequences of live streaming unpredictable events. According to a spokesman, they hope to strike a balance between enabling a powerful tool of expression and providing a safe and respectful experience on their network.
While the social media giant grapples with the complex dilemma, the instances of graphic crime are becoming frequent. Last month, a Chicago man live streamed his own murder. Another man who sympathized with Islamic terrorists, streamed threats after he allegedly murdered a French police commander and his partner. The French video was taken down from Facebook after several hours; the video of the Chicago killing remained.
What would you tell Mark Zuckerberg and the people running Facebook? Should they continue to stream these shocking events or restrict them? We'd appreciate your input in the comments below.