Social Media
What makes Facebook Live a powerful tool for communication is perhaps its simplicity.

When a young couple sitting in a park in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, were tried to be given a class on morality by two police personnel recently, they live streamed the incident on Facebook. 

In Assam, a man took to Facebook Live after his bike keys were taken away by traffic cops when he supposedly questioned them about the law. 

The ongoing clashes in south Kashmir’s Kulgam, marked by firing and tear gas shells, were broadcast live on Facebook earlier this month. 

The Women's March in Washington on January 21, apart from its coverage on television, was live-streamed across several platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. 

Just less than a year ago, the social media giant opened up FB Live for everyone (prior to that, it had been made available for some time only to celebrities with a verified page). 

Founder Mark Zuckerberg, making the announcement, said, "Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket. Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world. When you interact live, you feel connected in a more personal way. This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it's going to create new opportunities for people to come together."

The shift is here, and it is a significant one. 

While its rivals, Twitter's Periscope and Alphabet's YouTube too provide live-streaming services, Facebook's advantage lies in it being the largest social networking site in the world. It is estimated that Facebook will hit 2 billion monthly active users by the middle of this year

What makes Facebook Live a powerful tool for communication is perhaps its simplicity. It doesn't require a professional to shoot the video or a huge set-up, and can easily be used by anyone with access to a smartphone and internet. 

Grace Banu, a transgender activist based in Chennai, used Facebook Live when Tara, a 28-year-old transgender woman was found severely burnt outside the Pondy Bazaar police station in November last year. The incident where Tara succumbed to her injuries, while raising questions of the police, opened up discussions on the unjust treatment that is often meted out to the transgender community in the country. 

With the help of such technology, Grace says, it has become a tad easier to get their voices heard. 

"In 2005, a similar incident involving a transgender person had taken place, but at that point we didn't have the technology to highlight it. But in the case of Tara, the story later got national coverage as well," she says. 

Grace, who has also live streamed other events such as the jallikattu protests, calls it a "very useful tool as events are exposed to the world immediately. Unlike in news rooms, where videos need edits, nothing of that sort is required when live streaming on Facebook."

Breakthrough India, an organisation fighting against gender discrimination and domestic violence, has been using Facebook's live streaming option for nearly a year now- be it for an event or the numerous discussion sessions it holds.  

"It is really interesting," says Himel Sarkar, coordinator for digital engagement, Breakthrough. "It allows us to take what we are doing, and broadcast it in real time. It is more transparent. Conversations you'd like others to view and listen can now be done instantly.” 

"It is not highly resource-intensive. You can just set the phone on a tripod and you are good to go," Himel states. 

Facebook Live is changing the way we create and consume videos. It is enabling individuals, organisations and especially the media to document events and show it to the world, all in the time it probably takes to order food on Swiggy. 

Seth Lewis and Nicole Smith Dahmen in a piece in The Conversation explain that while photographs and videos are powerful mediums in themselves, "live" videos, often shot by regular people, are viewed as more "authentic". 

Media organisations, both big and small, from across the world are using this feature more and more regularly to broadcast events from on the ground. And if this is successful, news agencies can possibly work on a more formal format of airing videos on social media. 

Ethics and legality 

When the video of the shooting of a black man by a policeman in Minnesota, USA was live-streamed on Facebook last year, it raised several complex ethical and policy issues

The video of a bleeding Philando Castile, in the car with his girlfriend went viral, garnering millions of views.

Though the incident brought to light how racism and police brutality are still very much prevalent in "the land of the free", it also raised the question of how ethical it is to broadcast disturbing videos involving violence or obscenity? 

And this is not the only such case. An alleged gang rape of a woman was reportedly live streamed on Facebook. A 14-year-old girl in Miami took her life by hanging herself in the bathroom of her foster parents' home in January. She reportedly broadcast it on Facebook live, with the video lasting for two-hours. In May 2016, a woman threw herself under a train in France as she was recording herself on Periscope.

News agencies are subject to stringent standards regarding the content it airs or publishes; individuals streaming disturbing content however do not have any such conditions to meet. 

Critics are of the view that the "lack of regulation can allow exploitation of tragedy" and can, in some cases, call for legal action, states a report in The Telegraph. For instance, say in the case of revenge porn. Or even terrorism. 

"The availability of a live broadcast, unencumbered, becomes a horrendous tool in the hands of a terrorist," Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Los Angeles-based non-profit Simon Wiesenthal Center's Digital Terrorism and Hate project, told the paper. 

For a long time, Zuckerberg had insisted that they are not a media company, but only a technology company. But last year, during a Facebook live session, he seems to have finally admitted to the same

"Facebook is a new kind of platform. It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it's used. We don’t write the news that people read on the platform. But at the same time, we also know that we do a lot more than just distribute news, and we’re an important part of the public discourse," he said. 

In the present day, live-streaming seems like a highly effective and influential tool to communicate. However, till the legalities and other concerns around it are sorted out, it will probably continue to be a double-edged sword.