Why the FCC May be Calling on Facebook and Other Live Streaming Services Soon

Right after the terrible massacre at a mosque in New Zealand last week, I read a piece written by Nestor Ramos of the Boston Globe that suggested the Internet is Broken.

Here is an excerpt of what he said:

On Friday, in the hours after 49 people were gunned down in a white supremacist terrorist attack at two New Zealand mosques — the whole thing streaming on Facebook — the graphic video of the incident ricocheted around the Internet faster than social media companies could control it.
The nearly 17-minute video appears to show a gunman opening fire in a mosque, just as he’d announced on the fringe social media platform 8chan.
His rambling manifesto was already posted online, waiting for the violence that would make it mean something. And though Facebook took down the user’s account after being contacted by police, it was too late: The video had been released into the world, and even mainstream social media services didn’t have much hope of stopping its spread.

It is now clearer than ever before: The Internet, this thing we all built together, has gotten away from us. There is no checkbox in the settings somewhere to rein in its cyclical malevolence, each nightmare sewing thousands of seeds that will one day, after years of patient tending on message boards, grow into nightmares of their own. The Internet is broken.

When I was contemplating writing this piece, I wanted to title it, “The Internet Genie is out of the bottle.” But given all of the broad amount of negative content, and fake news and opinions already propagated over the Internet, especially since the Arab Spring showed how Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites could be used to push propaganda, agenda’s and even change, the fact that the Internet is now uncontrollable is not new news.

The Internet and social media sites are not regulated, but there is a great deal of discussion going on about finding ways to deliver governmental oversight, especially on social media companies. To date, outside of direct censorship that China, North Korea, and some other countries dictate for their citizens, very little governmental oversight exists.

US officials have been threatening government regulations on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others, but so far have not delivered any concrete ways to do this. But with this recent live streaming of a horrible massacre that was tied to a white supremacy manifesto, we have perhaps a practical way to deal with at least one aspect of social media that demands some form of controls.

Because live television and radio broadcasts are regulated by the FCC, they implement a five-second delay to any live programming. Monitors and sensors, some human and these days also automated, look for content that breaks FCC rules and either bleep it or does not allow it to be broadcast at all.

This may be an area where we could see some intervention on live streaming sites in which the FCC looks at them the same way they view live TV and Radio and look at streaming sites that go to a mass audience. They could place them under some form of a significant delay rule and mandate they monitor or use AI to make sure this type of content is controlled.

Facebook, YouTube and others who streamed this event, took down at least 1.5 million streams that were showing this video of the New Zealand shooter, but as of Sunday night, there were still at least 1.5 million sites still showing it. The sad fact is that they will never be able to take them all down and this recorded event will be available forever in some shape or form on nefarious sites around the world.

Facebook and other live streaming sites could still be allowed to deliver live streaming to smaller groups of people, which is part of Facebook’s VR strategy. But if a live stream goes to a mass audience, it would come under some type of FCC ruling that goes through perhaps an hour delay so that it can be filtered to make sure things like this New Zealand massacre never see’s the light of day. Other regions of the world would also need to have similar laws and rules for this to work. On a worldwide basis this type of live streaming could not be stamped out completely, but it would reduce how much something like this could be shown live.

Of course, any concept of regulating the Internet will be highly controversial. But this New Zealand shooting being shown to a worldwide audience is dangerous on so many levels. One is that once you view it, you can’t unsee it. It also can serve as a means to bolster other radicals to consider doing copy cat versions of this against anything they are against. We could come up with dozens of other reasons why live streaming of massacres, executions and many other deeply offensive content should never be allowed to be shown.

The FCC’s oversight of live TV and Radio has not been considered censorship. Their role is to protect the airwaves and what goes over it and are rules based. The FCC could work with the social media sites to come up with the kinds of rules that keep this type of content away from people as part of this oversight. Facebook, Twitter and others who provide live streaming services should do this type of policing on their own and self regulate this type of content. But if they won’t, they can expect that the FCC and other communications regulatory bodies around the world will come knocking very soon.

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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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