live streaming concert
Credit: By Wittybear on Shutterstock.

With Periscope, Facebook Live, and many other apps, anyone with a smartphone can get live video in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers.

But the livestreaming landscape is not all harmless exploding watermelons or cheese eating records.

Livestreaming apps have already been used to broadcast serious crime such as sexual assault.

In traditional broadcasting, before a video was put on air and before the journalist was even sent to cover a story, there would be a risk assessment procedure in place.

Social media trainer and former BBC journalist Sue Llewellyn pointed out that a similar process should be observed before journalists start livestreaming on Periscope or Facebook Live.

Speaking at MoJoCon in Ireland today (29 April), she highlighted the "spectre" of livestreaming – a "s.p.e.c.t.r.e" which also serves as a mnemonic device to help broadcasters calculate the risks.

"The raw and visceral is really very frightening," she said.


"Safety should be rule number one in whatever you're doing." Llewellyn highlighted a case where the livestreamer was broadcasting from the street where they had found an abandoned suitcase, asking viewers what to do about it.

Your livestreams should not endanger those around you and yourself. It is easy to become distracted while streaming and engaging with the comments. And while in traditional broadcasting situations team members would be watching each other's backs, Llewellyn highlighted that livestreamers often work alone, and focusing on a broadcast could mean they are missing dangerous developments in their vicinity.

Livestreaming with the location turned on can also be a safety issue, especially when broadcasting from your home.


Livestreamers could become the new paparazzi, she said, as users now have a new tool to film and share pictures of celebrities when they see them in the street.

"Privacy is a massive issue, we all have a right to a private life and be private if we so wish."

Filming and broadcasting minors also requires a written consent form, which usually would not be present when someone is doing a quick livestream of their favourite celebrity who is out with their family.


Thinking about the situations when it is appropriate to livestream is one of the challenges facing the media industry today.

There are many risks associated with broadcasting live from situations when reporters will not be able to control what the viewer sees next.

"Do we stream just because we can when we have something potentially really shocking?" The first instinct might be to stream from breaking news events, but journalists should be thinking about what could appear on the screen next, and if they are willing to show that to their audience.


Periscope has already been involved in controversies around copyright, with some using the tool to broadcast other people's work or ticketed events.

But copyright can become an issue in situations that would otherwise seem uncomplicated – even doing a quick Q&A or behind the scenes video from your office can cause trouble if you are accidentally playing music in the background.


Trolling on social media has long been an issue for online journalists, and it comes as no surprise that the trolls have also adopted these new platforms.

While some trolls might be harmless, and simply tell users the audio on a Periscope is not working when it actually is, some female journalists have reported unmanageable levels of abuse on livestreaming platforms.

"That kind of trolling is an issue that needs to be stopped," said Llewellyn. "Platforms aren't doing enough to control this and it's going to be something that puts people off."

Reputational risk

While giving up the ability to control what the audience is about to see next in a livestream, broadcasters risk damaging their reputation when things go wrong.

This does not necessarily need to be connected to illegal or unethical streams – low quality broadcasts can also send the wrong signal.

Llewellyn advised journalists to work out what could happen during a livestream and incorporate these scenarios in their crisis planning.

"At the very best you could bore your followers or your friends. At worst... you could lose trust."

Emotional trauma

Causing distress to viewers by streaming graphic imagery is another consideration for journalists who are thinking about going live in breaking news situations.

A livestream in the aftermath of the Bangkok bombings showed body parts on the floor, prompting comments from viewers who were uncomfortable with what they were being shown.

Research has also highlighted that the element of surprise can have an impact on the effects distressing imagery can have on those who see it .

Not being prepared to watch graphic images can mean viewers are more affected than if they had been warned in advance – which is rarely possible to do when livestreaming.

Sue Llewellyn leads a course on social media content strategies for Find out more here.

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