Should Facebook come under FCC Regulatory Rules in the US for Live Broadcasting?

Last week, Facebook announced they would hire up to 3,000 people to monitor and scrutinize Facebook Live content and other posts that use Facebook to share or broadcast heinous crimes such as the recent live streaming of a murder and a couple of suicides. Facebook has also been a place where people have posted taped incidents of crimes committed and these live editors would be tasked with catching them and making sure they never see the light of day on Facebook.

Facebook has close to 1.8 billion users around the world and we estimate that, at any given time, at least 3-5 million people are live broadcasting some type of event or situation on Facebook Live.

Today, Facebook has about 1,500 live editors. Adding 3,000 more would surely increase the amount of eyes and ears to keep watch over live broadcasts and look for other posts that may post images or information not allowed under Facebook’s rules and/or not in line with the spirit of Facebook. After all, it was designed as a sharing site for communications with friends and family. While Facebook understood what was being shared could be both good and bad, I am not sure they ever anticipated the site being used to share murders, suicides and posts about hatred and bigotry.

Until they added live video sharing, their algorithms and live editors where looking for key words that included things like “murder”, “hate”, “kill”, and terms that could be literal or figurative. For example, A person might post, “This picture is hilarious and it kills me,” which even though it used the word “kills”, the sentence in this context is harmless.

However, if the post says something like “I just killed a person” or used as a threat like “I am going to kill you”, the AI behind these algorithms and rules used by live editors should catch these posts and keep them from public view and, if considered a real threat, reported to authorities. Facebook’s AI software is even smart enough to catch things like images such as the ISIS beheadings that were posted on Facebook and keep them from public viewing.

But when Facebook introduced live streaming, it created a new type of medium for sharing and a new set of problems and challenges for its AI software and live editors. The virtue of live streaming of events, parties, concerts etc., is that it is live. At a concert, you want to share that experience live. In a group setting or at a sports game, you also want it to be a shared real time experience.

At the moment, Facebook is not regulated by any form of government body even though that type of government intervention has been suggested in countries where freedom of speech is not a right. And in the US, the idea of Facebook having to come under any regulatory agency would be onerous to all. However, I have to believe the FCC, at the very least, is looking at Facebook’s live broadcasting program and trying to determine if these types of broadcasts would need to come under scrutiny and if they should apply their seven second delay rules to this part of Facebook’s program in the US.

As I understand it, these FCC rules are applied to live broadcasts of any programs or content that goes over any form of live video distribution that uses sanctioned bands. However, I am told that, even if live video is distributed through cable networks, under many circumstances, the seven second delay can apply too.

According to Wikipedia, this rule was established in 1952.

“A short delay is often used to prevent profanity, bloopers, violence, or other undesirable material from making it to air, including more mundane problems such as technical malfunctions (i.e. an anchor’s lapel microphone goes dead) or coughing. In this instance, it is often referred to as a seven-second delay or profanity delay.”

I have reached out to my FCC contacts for comment but have not heard back from them on this issue as of yet. I will update this piece if and when they respond. However, as I stated earlier, I do know the FCC and other government agencies in the US are looking very closely at how Facebook and other social networks that could be used to communicate content via live streaming will try and keep things like suicides and any other violent content out of the public’s view.

More importantly, if Facebook, Twitter, and others cannot solve this problem in real time, I would not at all be surprised if, at some point, the seven second delay will be forced on them to make sure this type of content never sees the light of day over these social networks, at least in the US.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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