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Live-streaming: Where does one draw the line?

Technology boosts communication, but it has also thrown up new set of challenges

It is a chilling video to sit through, not only for the visceral images it throws up, but also for the sheer immediacy of its delivery.

It begins moments after Mr Philando Castile, 32, is shot multiple times in Minnesota.

In a surprisingly calm manner, one of the first things his fiancee - Lavish "Diamond" Reynolds - does is to whip out her smartphone and live-stream the event to her Facebook friends from the passenger seat.

She narrates the events leading up to this point in a methodical manner: They were pulled over for a busted tail-light. Mr Castile has a firearm he is licensed to carry. He told the officer he was armed and was trying to take out his identification when the officer opened fire.

In the background, the police officer panics and can be heard shouting expletives. "I told him not to reach for it," screams the officer.


Mr Castile, in a blood-soaked T-shirt, in his car. PHOTO: LAVISH REYNOLDS/FACEBOOK

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We briefly see Mr Castile, with his T-shirt soaked in blood, gasping desperately for breath before the phone is flung on the ground.

In the next few minutes, there are no more visuals.

Instead, we hear the develop- ments as they happen. Mr Castile dies, the officer curses even more vehemently, Ms Reynolds prays for safety and, for the first time, we hear the voice of her four-year-old daughter who had been sitting at the back of the car.

The next time we see Ms Reynolds, she is alternating between screaming hysterically in grief, and monotonously calling her friends to come give her a ride home in what seems purely an act of survival.

As the video ends, her daughter reassures her: "It's OK mummy. I'm right here with you."

It is almost impossible to know, without a formal investigation, if the situation unfolded exactly as Ms Reynolds had described, given that the video starts midway through the incident.


When he was shot by a police officer on Wednesday, the first thing his fiancee, Ms Reynolds, did was to
whip out her smartphone and live-stream the event to her Facebook friends from the car’s passenger seat. PHOTO: LAVISH REYNOLDS/FACEBOOK

But it's hard to deny that Ms Reynolds was in anguish.

The video, which has so far been viewed more than five million times, has spurred the return of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which first kicked off when an 18-year-old black male by the name of Mike Brown Jr was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

It has also been a rallying point for protests over the issues of race relations, police brutality and gun violence in the US.

A protest in Dallas last Friday tragically claimed the lives of at least five police officers.

On a broader front, the instantaneous nature of the footage has also cast a spotlight on several issues.

One problem, for instance, is authenticity. How would users know what they are viewing isn't an elaborate hoax?

On the other hand, authentic footage of abuse or crime should have a shot at reaching as many people as possible.

Would as many people have come to know about Mr Castile's unfortunate demise if Ms Reynolds had not taken out her phone?

Another prickly topic is censorship. Does the ability to stream events live mean everyone should do so beyond the bounds of decency?

It was reported that a woman live-streamed a friend's rape on Twitter's Periscope service in April.

In May, a young woman in France sent out a broadcast of her own suicide.

Facebook has said it plans to expand its team dedicated to reviewing live content. It remains to be seen if that would be nearly enough, given its large user base.

To be fair, such issues have persisted long before the invention of live-streaming, and Facebook and Twitter are essentially just tech companies which provide a service.

But the advent of such technologies certainly does not help.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for one, seems aware of the situation.

In a post last Friday, he said: "While I hope we never have to see another video like Diamond's, it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important - and how far we still have to go."

Indeed.

INTERNET LOVE SCAMS


The online chat between M and Mandy Liu shows her asking him to transfer
$3,500 to her bank account for her to buy a ticket to see him. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Amid the rise of Internet love scams, some netizens are fighting back using the only way they know how - with humour.

Last week, a male Facebook user, who wanted to be known as M, received a friend request from a user named Mandy Liu.

Liu, who used a profile picture of an attractive Chinese lady, said she wanted to be friends as she found M good-looking.

Within minutes, she had sent M several provocative photos and asked him if he wanted to meet in person.

The only obstacle standing between the star-crossed lovers and everlasting affection? She needed him to transfer $3,500 to her bank account for her to buy a ticket to see him.

"U like? Can buy ticket for me dear," she typed feverishly. "I promise to pay you back when we meet. We can have fun."

M was quick on the uptake.

He continued to engage her, but led her on a wild chase.

In one exchange, he sent her a photo of his "identification card", which instead depicted the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

She stopped replying shortly after.

While the tactics used by M's would-be scammer were rather primitive, there have been many reports of more elaborate ruses online.

The savvier scammers, many of whom claim to be foreigners, tend to put in more time to engage the victim on an emotional level.

Weaving lie upon lie, sob story upon sob story, some even go to the extent of using intermediaries to "prove" their authenticity.

Last year, Internet love scams rose by 93 per cent, according to police data, and cost the victims about $12 million.

This year, a female administrator in her 50s lost $1.2 million to a man who claimed to be an American engineer and his intermediary, a Nigerian man named John.

She not only lost all her savings, but is now also in debt.

She said in a recent report that she had been prepared to leave her husband for a person she had never met face-to-face.

The administrator's horrible experience holds lessons for us all: Never take anything you encounter online at face value and, for goodness' sake, keep a tighter rein on your wallet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Live-streaming: Where does one draw the line?'. Print Edition | Subscribe