Livestreaming Meerkats with a Periscope?

Kiev was burning. Fascists, neo-Nazis, “Occupiers”, and nationalists battled in the streets while a country writhed in confusion. “Battle: Kiev” is considered one of the more poignant moments in the evolution of social media, and yet it lacked one major element; streaming video. Of course all of the major news media outlets from Al-Jazeera to Fox were on scene, but the video they chose to share had to pass through many layers before it was broadcast to the world. Fast forward to fall 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri where a handful of quasi-activists used their phones to provide live streaming video of the nation’s most violent protests in many decades.

No filters, no corporate liability, no notions of fair or balanced reports, livestreaming has usurped traditional media in what may prove to be the final blow to a moribund discipline. For those marching on the street livestreamers are advocates and story tellers. They assure the nation, even the world, will see their plight and come to understand their frustration. For law enforcement livestreamers represent a social paradox; are they media, are they concerned citizens, or are they malefactors with smartphones? For security professionals livestreamers challenge long established rules governing the recording of concerts and sporting events. Are they “recording” in the traditional sense or are they circumventing ticketing protocols by providing live video of the event? Truly the newest evolution in social media has brought with it some interesting questions and as always, a duality that bears contemplation.

On livestreaming’s light side we see the ability of people to tell their stories, unedited and as raw as life can be. The recent refugee crisis in Serbia is a great example. Tens of thousands of people trapped in the Serbo-Hungarian border region are unable to move on and unwilling to return to a war zone. Their stories were being livestreamed days if not weeks before traditional media began reporting the problem. As the popularity of real-time documentaries rise, stories like this will begin to fill Face Book timelines and Twitter feeds. The allure of livestreaming is the ability to directly reach an audience without filters and without unwanted bias. The next evolution will see 2016 US presidential candidates livestreaming for their base…if they are smart.

Media Monitoring Teams (MMT) stand to gain valuable insight if they can properly leverage livestreams. Street level content allows them to watch what is happening in a much more comprehensive fashion. While standard media monitoring provides unmatched situational awareness, streaming video adds a real-life aspect on top of the real time analysis. For example, a recent protest in Arizona was held outside of a light rail extension grand opening. A standard MMT approach provided little to no information on the protest or the impact on the event. Two livestreamers however provided a ground-level view of the ceremony and the protest. It was easy to see, based on the two streaming points of view, the protest was well attended but peaceful, and the ceremony was barely affected.

Unfortunately, a dark side of livestreaming is also alive and well. A recent scan of 20 random livestreamers around the world revealed 16 female users under 17 years of age. Each of them had an army of followers encouraging everything from flashing their breasts to sex acts. The implications of this are deep and deeply troubling. Livestreaming’s greatest strength, unfiltered information, may also prove to be its greatest weakness. A livestreamer controls the message by virtue of controlling the stream. Just as in Ferguson, one point of view does not the truth make. Biased from its foundation, a nefarious livestream can infect the minds of millions, making them believe an asymmetrical war has been declared on a peaceful population.

Similar to the early days of social media, livestreaming will too see its bumps and bruises. There will be cases of rampant child pornography and literal live action violence, but we will also see humanity triumphing over great odds and visit far reaches of the globe hitherto only dreamt of. Police departments, corporations, and of course governments can send information directly to their audience without interfering media bias. For MMTs the time to learn about livestreaming has come. Livestreaming content is being produced at the speed of life, and we must be prepared to acquire, understand, and evaluate it at the same speed.