A little less than a year after its official launch, Facebook Live continues to be one of the most ambitious bets and at the same time uncertain for Mark Zuckerberg and his social network. The function to transmit live video through a smartphone or webcam of a computer is used daily by hundreds of thousands of people, but despite numerous efforts of Facebook, it continues to perform a secondary role and to involve only a fraction of the nearly two billion members of the social network.
Zuckerberg has invested great resources and expectations in the live video, but according to a lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal, he may have accelerated over time, without assessing the consequences and the practical effects of offering everyone the chance to broadcast anything live.
Early last year, Zuckerberg surprised a hundred Facebook employees, mostly engineers and developers, announcing that they would work for a few weeks in solitary confinement to accelerate as much as possible the development of a new system to make live video on the social network. Many of them were hijacked overnight from projects which were already working, as a result of a decision that Zuckerberg himself had taken quite suddenly at the end of a meeting with other co-workers to make a point about Facebook's growth, its potential developments and new solutions to stem the move of its younger members to Snapchat.
The interest in video by Zuckerberg actually went back a few years before. Already in 2014 the social network had begun to develop systems to make quick and easy uploading and sharing videos, with the clear intention to compete with YouTube and to reduce the presence of its content on Facebook.
The following year a pilot project was launched to give the opportunity to some famous people to transmit Facebook Live, via a dedicated application that allowed them to make a first series of tests, then extended to the normal user groups on iPhone only. Facebook often organizes initiatives in which it experiments new features with a small number of users, which if unsuccessful are abandoned.
The decision to create Facebook Live, and in a hurry, was taken by Zuckerberg in February 2016 in the last ten minutes of a meeting with other executives of the company, according to the various anonymous inner sources consulted by the WSJ. Taking stock of the pilot project of Facebook Live, one of the managers pointed out that about 70 percent of the audience was made up of young users and that many Facebook Live were in the classroom, and not for various types of ceremonies as they had imagined those of Facebook. Users who created and guarded the Facebook Live also were part of the age group that was gradually reducing the use of Facebook to engage in Snapchat.
After hearing these very encouraging data, Zuckerberg paused to think, then asked if it was time to change strategy on the video, and invest much more on Facebook Live. Some executives expressed skepticism, but it was clear that Zuckerberg had become convinced of the need to try. A hundred developers and engineers were chosen to turn the pilot project on Facebook Live into a real product, with very tight deadlines to arrive on time in April, the month in which it was scheduled the annual conference organized by Facebook to present its new products to developers.
In a few weeks the group worked in isolation working on ways to make the system reliable, which would offer overnight the opportunity to hundreds of millions of people to pass on their smartphone as the computer version would come later, or to witness to the actions of others. Systems were also designed to express reactions to the video in real time, using the "Like" and other options made available a few weeks before (hearts and smiley faces).
Meanwhile, Facebook set to work to promote as much as possible its Live not only among the famous people, but also with the major US newspapers. To date, this is still one of the most controversial aspects of the initiative, to encourage newspapers and other media to use its instrument, Facebook has paid tens of millions of dollars, with agreements on which the warheads have maintained a certain ambiguity, in many cases not clearly communicate to their readers the presence of a direct sponsorship.
Among the information sites that have benefited are New York Times, BuzzFeed and CNN, who received overall at least $ 52 million for live videos. It was BuzzFeed to attract attention first on Facebook Live, after its official presentation took place in California during the conference for developers of social networks. Live video of two editors who hid in turn a rubber band around a watermelon up to detonate was seen, commented on and shared by millions of people.
In the following days, watermelon story led to a broad and interesting debate about journalism, editors and their relationship with a giant company like Facebook, that the stream of readers from its social network can modulate at will to their sites.
In the summer of 2016, the live video of the killing of 32 year old Black Philando Castile in Minnesota by a police officer was the clearest sign to Facebook executives and others, that some of the consequences of Live have been underestimated. In the past, even during the pilot trial, there had been cases of violent videos or explicit content removed from Facebook, but no one had taken on the dimensions of the story of Castile.
Live had been turned from Castile to a girl, taken mortally wounded to the ground, and had enabled it to promote a true story about a new alleged incident of harassment and violence by the police against blacks in the United States.
The reactions of employees and Facebook executives were mixed as some were proud to have made visible a moment of that kind, others saddened and others concerned about the very explicit content of the images, unusual for the social network that has very strict rules on what it can and can not show the inside. Things got complicated when many users began to report the content to Facebook, because too explicit, leading to the automatic suspension of the Castile girl profile, waiting for a check.
The video remained online for at least an hour provoking protests from many observers, who accused the social network to have censored a news item of that significance. Following Facebook explained that the removal had taken place automatically by its software and that the suspension was withdrawn immediately after the verification of some employees.
By the case of Castile and other similar incidents, but have received less coverage by the media, Facebook has learned a lot, starting with the more effectively respond to and promptly in the case of controversial Facebook Live. The moderation of the live video is now run by small groups of people outside of Facebook, working on 8-hour shifts, and that give a service coverage 24 hours every 24 days. Using automatic systems for detection of controversial content and other software to monitor the performance of Facebook Live and act in the most special cases: for example, it is prohibited to show pornographic or violent scenes.
Despite the work of the moderators, last year Facebook has struggled to find the right balance on what to keep and what to block online. The problem is, however, more general and covers various content shared by users, as it became evident last year with the erroneous deletion of a post of a Norwegian newspaper that he shared the famous photos of a little girl who runs away from a napalm bombing during the war in Vietnam. The rules of moderation on Facebook are constantly changing and are becoming increasingly blurred, and from this comes the inability to offer a common treatment for all users and their content.
The theme of proper moderation is central to the widespread introduction of live video. Unlike those recorded and that can be seen immediately from start to finish, determining whether they are in good standing, Live can be unpredictable and suddenly show explicit images prohibited by Facebook. According to sources of the WSJ, the speed set at the Live development has left little time to assess these implications and explains part of the stumble had the system in the first year of service.
Facebook hopes to further improve things in the future thanks to artificial intelligence, which is investing big resources and that allow you to control more precisely the video automatically, identifying their contents. Technologies of this type are very refined and in part still to be put into practice, so will not be available in a short time. The main objective is to untie Facebook Live from the image which has been associated so far: an instrument or used by major media to repeat their well directed on the social network, or a system where we speak only when it is used to show violent events. The basic ambition is to make a system that allows everyone to share a moment of their lives live, to show off to their friends.
Zuckerberg still seems willing to invest even much money in the development and distribution of live video, which in the future will be at the center of Facebook along with virtual reality systems, whose development relies on Oculus, a company specializing in the production of viewers acquired in 2013. Facebook Live must also still prove to be a profitable product for the company and for those who produce Live. Facebook has so far experienced only in isolated cases the addition of advertising superimposed to obtain some money, but it is not clear what could be the economics of the system.
This week, Facebook has been the focus of a controversy. A BBC survey found that Facebook did not remove 80% of child sexual abuse content explicitly, accompanied by obscene comments, on the platform. Photographs stolen from groups and pages circulating were linked to child abuse, but also the profiles of five pedophiles already recognized and condemned as such. However, what has displaced it really was the reaction of Facebook that after asking the magazine to send some of these materials as a support to its indictment, signaled to the sending of the same. A move not only questionable from an ethical point of view, but should also serve as an alarm bell.
The fact that the network giant has sued for publishing illegal material and manage to get around it, and emerge unscathed, must give us pause. Mark anything in mitigation, however, has said: namely, that Facebook has removed everything that was contrary to its policy. A statement that sounds very ambiguous and it is normal that you leave us with a bitter taste, especially because it comes from the platform, more than any other, has a steep guarantor of safety of children, has promised to improve the system reporting of illegal content and carries with pride at least until now this struggle from below. Happy ending: the ball is now passed into the hands of the authorities.
Let's change subject. It seems that Zuckerberg has changed his position on introduction of the much-needed thumbs downwards. The Facebook dislike button, the reaction most anticipated ever, which says a lot about how people today feel the urgency to express their disapproval could really get on Facebook, starting from Messenger. Users can add their own reaction to the various phrases of the conversation.
We are always trying new ways to make Messenger fun and challenging. We are conducting this experiment that allows users to better express their feelings in front of the posts, says Facebook. It must be said that the implementation of the dislike button would create, especially for brand pages, a bit of swell and would fuel the controversy and discontent. On the other hand, it would be possible to actually measure the satisfaction of their fans, and they would not feel trapped at the junction but the maximum transparency does not always pay, unfortunately as the reality is that to grow, today, everyone prefers to buy fans.
Among the tests that Facebook is doing these days, there is also a reinterpretation of the city pages, to make them more tourist-oriented with tips, reviews, places that are worth a visit, attractions and places of interest, events and friends on-site, and targeted advice for every user, as the price for eating at a particular restaurant and in short is the new frontier of the tour guides that is a checkmate to TripAdvisor.
This way, people can create your own travel itinerary, customized on their tastes and on the advice of virtual friends, taking advantage of that funny mechanism by which people seem more willing to advise and guide the choice of friends virtually, than the real life with their acquaintances.