This is where the Internet is, currently: Facebook is in the process of hiring 3,000 new employees to police the videos and livestreams on its platform in an effort to keep you from seeing graphic violence, hate speech and extremist propaganda. That probably sounds, if not noble, like a smart business decision on Facebook's part, and it is, but it's also an admission that the 4,500 people the company already pays to do that aren't getting the job done. Apparently, leaving a video of a father murdering his baby daughter up for 24 hours wasn't a good look for the company, and it's really trying to avoid that happening again in the future.
Wish them the best of luck with that if you'd like, but the reality is that the genie isn't going back into the bottle. We now live in the age of Endless Rubbernecking, where all the bad of the world is just a few keystrokes away, no need to drive down the road or sit through hours of NASCAR to see it. The shocking thing is not that it's happened; it's that Facebook is somehow surprised that it did.
It's not as if we as humans haven't been fascinated with the idea of capturing death on camera for decades now. Anyone who ever rented Faces of Death could have told you that the moment humans had easy access to video cameras and a platform to share their footage, this is where things would head. Even before YouTube and Facebook Live, it wasn't exactly difficult to find beheadings and murder on the Internet if you wanted to stare into the abyss for a few hours.
While the graphic violence shows us at our worst, for now at least, those videos aren't the norm and no one has figured out how to monetize murder out loud. What we have gotten very good at, however, is figuring out how to monetize being a jerk.
You won't remember this story when 2017 comes to a close, but for the past few weeks, people on the Internet have been very mad about a YouTube account run by a user named DaddyOFive. DOF would upload “hilarious” prank videos online and was making some pretty good bank off of them if what they've said in interviews is to be believed. The problem was that the pranks were often at the expense of his younger children, and often went beyond the line of what most would consider a “prank.”
Absolutely there is a problem here, because using child abuse for fun and profit is super-gross, but the problem is bigger than just bad parenting; the only reason they were so successful is that there were a bunch of people – more than 750,000 subscribers as of this writing – who were totally into watching it. And that's only one example from the prank video industry; there are countless others, monetizing their creative ways at being a jerk all the way to the bank.
But I write this not to tell you that something needs to be done about it, or that I have the solution to fixing it, or to lay judgment on those who view these types of videos and livestreams, because nothing can be done about it, there is no solution to it and I am absolutely one of those monsters who have watched terrible things captured on video. I know what happens to journalists in the wrong parts of the world. I've heard things I wish I could unhear from the woods of Ukraine. I get what people are referencing when they say “shake that bear.”
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But at least when I watched those things, I made a choice. I clicked a link. I did a search. I wasn't just scrolling down my Facebook page when out of nowhere there was an autoplaying live-stream showing me some bit of horrible.
The majority of people don't go out of their way to rubberneck. You look at the car accident in front of you because traffic slowed down and since you've been crawling along anyway, you might as well look. What most don't do is take the highway where the traffic has slowed because there was an accident.
So, yes, Facebook can hire all the people it wants to try to fight this issue, and on the uploaded video front maybe it'll work, but the company can't be surprised this is what's happened. But if it were concerned more about the user experience and not money, autoplay wouldn't be a thing.
But then, as DaddyOFive and so many others have discovered, there's money to be made in rubbernecking.