Eleven years ago, YouTube hadn't yet been founded. Videos existed on the internet, but in an era of 10GB-per-month data caps (at least in New Zealand) we were hardly in the era of video revolution. Compare to today, when on-demand video news, television and cat videos sent straight to our smartphones is the norm - and an interruption in service is enough to send many Millenials into a tailspin.
In this video-heavy era, Facebook is betting that the next evolution is live video. With media organisations increasingly accused of producing (or, in the case of CNN, being) "fake news", Facebook wants users to make their own stories, and stream them live to the world. So far, the livestreaming revolution has covered the inane (see Chewbacca Mom: https://youtu.be/y3yRv5Jg5TI) to the incredibly significant, as with livestreams of African Americans killed by police officers in the United States.
All this means that livestreaming is also headed for businesses, and for us in our day to day lives. It seems likely that live video will soon be another standard tool in individuals' and business' arsenals. It will be a new avenue to virally market and advertise; a means to record and share our experiences; and a way to sell people on our brands - whether our personal brands, or our organisation's.
But before we leap into livestreaming, there's a Pandora's Box full of legal risks that might come from using live video - particularly commercially. To mention just a few:
- To state the obvious, live video is just that - live. If something goes wrong, you can't take it back.
- Privacy laws still apply when you're capturing live video, and it's important to think about that when you're capturing a scene. Are you filming other people in a setting they might consider private, or releasing information about them (including things they say to another person) that they might object to? Depending on the circumstances, they might have a claim against you in privacy if you livestream those things.
- Does your live video give a fair representation of what's happening? A video which paints an incomplete picture of a scene could be misleading and deceptive to consumers (if used commercially), or even defamatory.
- If you're filming certain things, such as performances or sports games, you might be in breach of copyright or the terms of your tickets. If you manage to go viral, there's a risk you may face a claim by performers or organisers.
- Are you, and your employees, trained to deal with being on film? The risk might be particularly acute for police, but almost any interaction with the public might be covertly recorded - and instantly broadcast.
Many of these risks are exactly the same as the risks of conventional video. But livestreaming is easy, and Facebook in particular is trying to encourage people to use it as much as possible. That ease means that switching on the iPhone camera can become instinctive, instead of a planned and thought-out process. Livestreaming will change the way that we interact with our governments, our customers and each other - and if we're not careful, may open up a new front for litigation.
The irony of the current position is that news organisations and to an extent Facebook have been in their own very different states of denial about what is happening. Facebook knew the technology it deployed to bring forth Chewbacca Mom would also empower important political movements such as Black Lives Matter. It knows now that every time a violent atrocity is committed Facebook is the default destination, and its actions however automatic are freighted with meaning. And the traditional media have our own private dilemmas as we create the audience for terror or policy theatre.