How mobile video is changing the way we witness crime


Mobile video is changing the way we witness crime, from live footage of a mentally disabled man tortured by four assailants, to a recording that led to the manslaughter conviction of an Israeli soldier , to the body cameras designed to keep police accountable.

We’re all still wrestling with the implications.

In theory, such videos should make it easier to hold criminals, including police officers who violate the law, accountable. In practice, that hasn’t always worked out the way proponents had hoped, although smartphone video played a big role in elevating public awareness of police violence.

And sometimes the presence of a camera might actually encourage criminal activity, or at least deter bystanders from helping victims.


It’s not clear how any of that might have played out in an incident on this week, when attackers used Facebook Live to stream the beating and torture of a man with mental health problems. They threatened him with a knife, cut off his clothing and forced him to drink from a toilet.

The assault went on for up to two days, according to police, though it’s unclear how much of it was streamed on Facebook Live. Police have arrested four people in connection with the crime.

Last year, an Ohio woman plead not guilty to charges of rape, kidnapping and other crimes for live-streaming the rape of a friend on Periscope, Twitter’s live-streaming app. Prosecutors said Marina Lonina continued to film the assault despite the victim’s cries for help, caught up in the attention the livestream was getting. Lonina’s attorney said she was recording the attack as evidence.

During a Thursday press conference about the Chicago assault — itself live-streamed on Facebook — Chicago Police Cmdr. Kevin Duffin noted, “I can’t understand why anyone puts anything on Facebook.”


Facebook says it does not allow people to “to celebrate or glorify crimes” on its site. It has already removed the original video of the Chicago incident for that reason.

But the social network does allow crime video when people share it “to condemn violence or raise awareness about it,” the company said in an emailed statement.

That can lead to tricky assessments of intent. Facebook, for instance, wrote in a blog post that it would allow a violent video posted by someone who used it to help find the shooter, but would remove it when posted by another person who mocked the victim or celebrated violence.

Facebook generally tries to avoid making such judgments, preferring to rely on algorithms that automatically filter out banned content such as pornography. When it makes exceptions, it often wades into difficult territory — such as the time it was forced to restore the Pulitzer Prize-winning “napalm girl” photo after removing it because it features a naked child, blind to the photo’s historical context and significance.

“We understand the unique challenges of live video,” Facebook wrote in its July blog post after footage of a dying Philando Castile, bleeding inside a car after he was shot by police, went viral . The social network says it keeps a team on-call 24 hours a day to respond to reports of inappropriate video — though its reactive approach means that some material could easily go unreported.

Facebook Live is an important product for Facebook, and in recent months the company has gone to great lengths to promote it with notifications, sidewalk ad displays and TV commercials. The vast majority of live streams don’t involve crime, and Facebook is unlikely to rein back the product just because of a few difficult situations.

It’s “unfortunate” that acts of violence and terror have come to represent live streams, said Benjamin Burroughs, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas focused on emerging media, in an email to The Associated Press.

More civic-minded streaming lets people “bypass traditional media and connect directly with their social networks and the general public,” he said. Live streaming is powerful, he added, because it “produces really strong emotions in viewers, which can be used to unify or divide people.”


Online crime footage has been around much longer than live streams. While live broadcast gives them a sense of immediacy, many live videos only go viral well after the fact. So it may not really matter whether a video is live or not, just that it’s a concrete record of a crime that happened, visible to all who dare to click.

Even then, video evidence doesn’t necessarily lead to criminal convictions. In South Carolina, a white police officer was charged with the 2015 shooting of an unarmed black man after a traffic stop. A video shot by a bystander clearly shows Keith Scott being shot eight times in the back. But the jury was unable to reach a verdict and forced a mistrial.

In another case in Ohio, the two sides in the trial clashed over a video from a police officer’s body-worn camera that showed him shooting an unarmed man following a traffic stop. That case also ended in mistrial. The officer, Ray Tensing, will be retried.

As for users, a quick trip down memory lane confirms that some people will do almost anything in front of a camera to get online attention. Before Twitter gutted its quirky video-sharing app Vine, a popular phrase among users was “do it for the Vine,” the idea that people will do anything — usually weird, comical things — just for the sake of a six-second Vine video.

But it wasn’t just fun and games. Fights and violence also found a home on Vine under the hashtag #SmackCam — a 2013 “internet trend” that had people recording and posting videos of themselves hitting people in the face.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Author Infomation

Barbara Ortutay
Barbara Ortutay
  • -2

    Burning Bush

    The untold story here is the debasement of general maturity levels in society.

    After the election, many people on the side that lost were unable to contain their frustration. Hence the only outlet they felt they had was to lash out violently at someone whom they identified with the winning side.

    Learning how to handle and accept defeat is part of growing up, and these kids didn't seem to learn that.

    In fact, Millennials as a generation don't seem to have learnt that.

  • 1


    Learning how to handle and accept defeat is part of growing up, and these kids didn't seem to learn that. In fact, Millennials as a generation don't seem to have learnt that.

    That's wrong. It shows that the previous generations that are raising the more current generations DIDN"T TEACH THEM THAT.

    No discipline, no yelling, no spanking... no effective consequences for bad behavior. And when they're old enough... and they commit these kinds of antisocial acts, the world has to discipline them and show them the consequences. Sometimes, it's a one time deal and they just end up dead or imprisoned for life...

  • -2


    This just shows the sick criminal mind is never at rest and always innovating new crime/crimes to gain maximum fear and effect over a populace. Then you have a media justifying and encouraging said crimes. These criminals and media seem to target the weakest of society also.

  • 0



    "No discipline, no yelling, no spanking... no effective consequences for bad behavior. "

    I agree. The problem however is much deeper. What is "bad behavior"? Who decides? In today's relativistic society it is wrong to tell others they are wrong. The inconsistency with such a view goes unnoticed by most.

  • 0


    There is one aspect that one must always remember when viewing ANY media including mobile media. They are but a small segment and a "single" perspective on an scene and event. They are NEVER the "complete" and "whole" picture.

    Therefore, if such media is viewed and analyzed properly with the correct and relative perspective, it can be rather meaningful and somewhat useful. However, because it gives only a monocular and limited view, they are often misinterpreted as well as misused for what ever purpose, legal, humanitarian, and otherwise.

    It is like reading a history book published by an individual within a country without any collaboration or opinion from others and without any experience or knowledge of the rest of the world. It will be worse, if that historian did not have any idea as to the difference between fact, hearsay, imagination and fiction.

    Definitely the social media as with any media can be a problem in determining "truth." What is viewed or heard is indeed a "fact" but NOT the entire picture with the flow of events before and after. It may even have been created as in a movie production. What makes it dangerous is the "perspective" of those who view it without that depth and width of the situation, circumstances and environment within which it was taken,

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