Free Speech vs Censorship: Facebook Explains Live Streaming Policy


Facebook is encouraging users to take on a "responsible approach" to broadcasting events via the site's new video streaming platform.

The Facebook Live broadcast of Philando Castile, who was killed in a Minnesota shooting, went viral within hours after it was streamed by his fiancee Diamond Reynolds.

But just as the public was picking up news of the event, the video went offline, prompting netizens and other media outlets to question whether the video was deliberately removed.

'Technical Glitch'

Facebook attributed the disappearance of the clip to a "technical glitch," but the 10-minute footage has since been restored and has now registered a total of 5.4 million views and more than 316,000 shares.

Does Facebook believe Reynolds crossed the line?

"The video doesn't violate standards," explains a spokeswoman for Facebook, "but we marked it as disturbing with a warning."

Facebook And Citizen Journalism

The tragedy, along with the Dallas shooting, casts a shadow on Facebook as an avenue for community news. The network exists in no small way because of the netizens who actively share content, sometimes even of breaking news, and the millions of others who use the channel as a source of information.

In fact, Pew Research Center reports that six out of 10 millennials who go online get their political news from Facebook week to week.

A number of stories shared across the social media site rely on free speech and citizen journalism, as in the case of the Minnesota tragedy's streaming.

For Reynolds, her intention behind the live feed was clear: "I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do."

'Witnessing The Worst'

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, says the images of Castile and Reynolds captured on Facebook Live were "graphic and heartbreaking."

"And they shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day," he writes in a status update.

Facebook, in an official statement, recognizes the value of live streaming in telling stories.

"Live video can be a powerful tool in a crisis — to document events or ask for help," the company says. The Live platform gives users a "window into the best moments" and also lets them "bear witness to the worst."

But control over what goes live in the Facebook stream, and what continues to thrive on the platform long after, demonstrates the social media site's power as a gatekeeper of information.

Violating Community Standards

What citizen journalists may deem significant to the public, Facebook can easily take down if it violates the site's community guidelines. All it takes is one report.

"A reviewer can interrupt a live stream if there is a violation of our Community Standards," Facebook says. Just how these very standards might lead to content being taken down is the bigger question.

But Facebook delineates between censorship and protecting the community.

"If a person witnessed a shooting, and used Facebook Live to raise awareness or find the shooter, we would allow it," the company explains. "However, if someone shared the same video to mock the victim or celebrate the shooting, we would remove the video."

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