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Christchurch attack: Should live streaming be banned?

Blog post   •   Mar 28, 2019 06:43 +08

In the wake of the gun attack on two mosques in Christchurch this month, one question being asked is whether live video streaming apps should be banned. The concern is that the terrorist in custody on murder charges was streaming his evil rampage live on Facebook. By providing live streaming capabilities, companies such as Facebook (and Instagram), YouTube, Twitter and others are creating platforms for terrorists to earn the notoriety they seek. Without a live stream facility, they are less able to achieve their goals.

It's hard to imagine that the live stream footage is anything but gruesome. I haven't watched it, and we could debate whether anyone should. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for one is reportedly "request[ing] urgent meetings with the peak industry organisations — Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association — to discuss whether current rules are providing adequate protections for Australian audiences."

There is also the questions whether Facebook should have done more to pull the live stream, not just prevent the sharing or uploading of the recording. The Guardian's CEO David Pemsel said “The idea that somehow – accidentally or otherwise – somebody should monetise that is abhorrent.”

But a total ban on live streaming apps "in the public interest" not only disadvantages users who are streaming seminars, public hearings or birthday celebrations, but also removes an important tool in the fight against crime. Think of the police shooting of black motorist Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016, which was live streamed on Facebook by his girl-friend Diamond Reynolds.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty on charges including second-degree manslaughter, but the footage would have proved crucial in securing the settlement in the wrongful death civil lawsuit brought by Castile's family and Reynolds.

Calling for a ban on live streaming software in the public interest is slightly reminiscent of calling for a ban on guns in the public interest. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" the mantra goes. We could argue the same about live streaming.

But there is one important distinction. Live streaming doesn't kill anyone. As despicable as live streaming a mass murder is, live streaming capability in the community does not cost lives in the way guns in the community do.

The responsibility lies with broadcasters and technology platforms whether to screen such footage, and it lies with viewers whether to watch it. I personally think they shouldn't. But banning live video streaming apps altogether goes too far.

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