War Now Coming To You Live On Facebook

By Alyssa Chrisope

It’s 2016, the day and age when you can live stream the World Series, presidential debates, your favorite animal exhibit at the zoo and now, war.

The decision of several major news networks to broadcast the advance on Mosul, Iraq, where the Islamic State took a crucial stand, live on Facebook sparked conversation about how social media should be used to report on war.

Here is a breakdown of the conflict in Mosul, Iraq that television stations such as Rudaw, Al Jazeera, and more have live-streamed.

The public is gaining more access than ever before to war coverage thanks to social media. David Perlmutter, dean of the Texas Tech’s College of Media and Communication, says this could be a benefit of live streaming.

“We are getting images from war that were almost not accessible in the past because in the past unless there was a news crew there, with its full footprint of the big camera, sound guy, reporter, then we didn’t see it,” he said. “We missed a lot of news because there wasn’t a full news crew there.”

Increasing information serves the public’s interest, but psychology professor Amelia Talley said the rise of violent images in the news has already started to desensitize many audience members.

This was a screenshot from from Rudaw's live stream of Mosul.

This was a screenshot from Rudaw’s live stream of Mosul.

“I think it [desensitization] has been happening, and we have empirical evidence to show it is happening,” Talley said. “It is just that with it being so ubiquitous and diffuse through our society right now the main [psychological] concern I would have is one the desensitization, but people becoming generally more fearful of other groups and groups that they might not be familiar with.”

Listen to Talley explains in the audio clip below the consequences that live streaming war can have on society as a whole.

Claire Wardle, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, said images of war can affect a person differently depending on what type of media is used.

“It’s less fear than feeling jarred by this imagery,” she said. “The fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen. That someone could be blown up in front of me. When I’ve chosen to watch the news on television I know that I will see things that are worrying or upsetting but that they are important. My issue is how jarring it is to see this type of information in a Facebook feed.”

According to Perlmutter and most social media guidelines, “technically nothing is too graphic for social media.” However, many are quick to criticize news organizations’ willingness to broadcast a potential horrific scene live on their newsfeed.

For more about how news organizations balance sensitivity in war coverage with serving the public’s interest, listen to NPR’s Renee Montagne’s interview with Hemin Lihony, head of digital media for Rudaw. 

One thing social media sites can control, however, is people’s use of emoji while watching real life war on the screen. Live Streaming War Tweet

This aspect of live stream of war has also sparked a lot of conversation about whether it might be insensitive, as Wardle discussed in an article titled “Mosul Streams Raise Concerns About Facebook Live.”

She argued this form of war reporting is legitimate until technology is tailored to such a sensitive subject matter.  

“If Facebook had ways to turn off emojis, think about comment moderation and provide ways to click on these videos if people wanted them, then yes [they are serving the public],” Wardle said. “My point is that the technology hasn’t caught up to the complexities of covering these types of stories.”

Yet, Facebook live and other social media coverage may be the future of war news. The plus, according to Perlmutter, is that users are in control of what comes up on their newsfeeds.

“The great thing about social media is you can construct your own visual world,” he said. “If there is something you don’t want to see you can undo it, unfollow just as easily as you can follow something you do want to see.”

Perlmutter hopes the relationship between social media and war will eventually end in peacemaking. Listen to him explain the idea in the audio clip below.

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