By: Kathleen Pulver,

“Facebook Live” was created with the intention of allowing users to engage more thoroughly with their followers, connect with others instantaneously, and tell stories their own way.[1] Many used the Facebook live function to stream real time shots of protests and marches surrounding this year’s inauguration, and the weeks that followed, including major news outlets.[2] During these protests, some peaceful and some not, the live function allowed people around the world to witness the action as it unfolded, and share their thoughts. More than fifteen thousand people commented on one ABC news video alone.[3] Overall, most people’s experience with Facebook Live has been positive, and it has been used as it was intended. However, in a horrifying new trend, the function has turned into a way for people to showcase terrifying displays of violence against others, and even themselves.[4]

The examples of these horrifying uses abound. In December of 2016 a twelve-year-old girl used Facebook Live to live stream her suicide, as she hung herself in her family’s backyard.[5] The broadcast went on for more than twenty minutes, and remained visible on the young girl’s Facebook page until late that night when a police officer from California notified the local police chief in Georgia.[6] The police have been working ever since to have the video removed.[7] In another well publicized event in January 2017, 4 teenagers tied up and tortured another teen victim while live streaming the attack via Facebook Live.[8] The teens even spoke directly into the camera and commented on the lack of support they were receiving in the comments to the video.[9] There are hundreds of other examples of violence being intentionally or accidentally recorded via Facebook Live, and then streamed for the world, or at least the users’ “friends,” to see. Many people have expressed their outrage with the social media giant, expressing concern over Facebook’s inability to control the content that is allowed to be shown, and their inability to do anything to stop the violence from occurring.[10]

The legal challenge presented with live streaming video is drawing the line between too much protection, therefore just banning all content all together, and no protection, allowing these incidents to occur without ramifications or the ability to stop them. Some people expect Facebook to allow them to post whatever they like, upholding their First Amendment right to free speech, while others argue that uncontrolled posting could lead to violent or inappropriate content being shown to a child. Facebook has already instituted reporting tools in the Live function, similar to the reporting tools available for normal posts.[11] Facebook currently has a team in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to monitor reported posts and if the content is found to violate Facebook’s standards, “it will be removed.”[12] The problem is, not everyone reports videos. For example, on December 28, 2016, a woman died while live streaming a video of herself playing with her toddler.[13] The woman was not the victim of a violent crime, but simply succumbed to a medical condition.[14] The video showed her being to sweat, getting dizzy, and eventually passing out, but no one reported the video.[15] Had someone reported the video as showing inappropriate, or containing disturbing content, a message would have been sent to the Facebook review team, and help may have been provided prior to her death.[16] Facebook has been struggling to find a way to address this problem for months, but thinks they may have found a solution in artificial intelligence.[17]

Artificial intelligence is the “science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”[18] Facebook already uses artificial intelligence to collect data about users to create targeted ads to each user.[19] The computer systems are able to use algorithms to classify data on their own, and determine what to do with it.[20] In this way, artificial intelligence could be used to classify live data as unacceptable under Facebook’s conduct standards and have it reported, or classify it as acceptable and allow the post to continue. It is a waiting game to see whether artificial intelligence will be able to properly combat the problems of inappropriate content in a quick manner to address the Facebook Live function. Ideally, the artificial intelligence will be smart enough to easily detect whether the content is inappropriate or dangerous, instead of simply broadly censoring content for fear it may reach a dangerous level. If the artificial intelligence can toe the line carefully between too much censorship and blocking violent content or providing help as needed, it will likely be the best possible solution to the legal problems presented with live streaming video.



[1] See Facebook Live,

[2] See e.g., BuzzFeed News, Facebook (Nov. 9, 2016),, ABC News, Facebook (Sep. 21, 2016),

[3] See ABC News, Facebook (Sep. 21, 2016),

[4] See e.g., Monica Akhtar, Facebook Live captures Chicago shooting that killed toddler, Washington Post (Feb. 15, 2017, 11:14 AM),

[5] See Corey Charlton, SUICIDE STREAMED ONLINE Girl, 12, streams her own suicide on social media for 20 minutes after being ‘sexually abused by a relative’ – and cops are powerless to take it down, The Sun (Jan. 12, 2017, 8:51 AM),

[6] See id.

[7] See id.

[8] See Jason Meisner, William Lee, & Steve Schmadeke, Brutal Facebook Live attack brings hate-crime charges, condemnation from White House, Chicago Tribune (Jan. 6, 2017, 6:59 AM),

[9] Id.

[10] See e.g., Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., How do you just sit there?’ Family slams viewers who did nothing as woman died on Facebook Live, Washington Post (Jan. 3, 2017),

[11] See Facebook Live,

[12] Id.

[13] See supra note 10.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] See id.

[17] See Alex Kantrowitz, We Talked To Mark Zuckerberg About Globalism, Protecting Users, And Fixing News, BuzzFeed News (Feb. 16, 2017, 4:01 PM),

[18] John McCarthy, What is Artificial Intelligence?, (last updated Nov. 12, 2007).

[19] See Bernard Marr, 4 Mind-Blowing Ways Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence, Forbes (Dec. 29, 2016, 1:01 AM),

[20] See id.

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