LONDON: On Monday, three Swedish men were arrested for gang-raping a woman and live streaming it on Facebook Live. Earlier in 2017, four men – three of whom were teenagers – were arrested for assaulting a special needs boy and live streaming the sequence of events on Facebook Live. In April, 2016, an 18-year-old Ohio woman was accused of using Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming tool, to shoot the rape of her 17-year-old friend. In another 2014 story, two young teenagers beat a 39-year-old to death over a period of 17 hours. They sent selfies with her bruised body via Snapchat, then documented their ride in a police van in the same way. Closer to home, a video of two college youth throwing down a puppy from their terrace did the rounds. Although the rule in India has a less harsh penalty when it comes to crimes against animals, social media ensured that the accused did not get away for what the two boys did.
Each crime is as brutal as the other. While live streaming crimes using social media tools has become a thing in the past year, using social media itself to conduct criminal activities is not, as shows the case of a 16-year-old Canadian who live tweeted bomb threats for three months using his Twitter.
One thing all these stories have in common that individuals, who don’t have hacking skills, need not worry about the dark web to showcase their crimes. They prefer to showcase their actions on an open platform so that their crimes are visible to the world. These broadcasts imply that the teens – who are the primary accused in these cases – not only did not understand the severity of their crimes, but that the potential to shock played a role in their motivation.
Ray Surette, a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida says that the core elements of contemporary performance crimes are that they are created for distribution via social media and involve both willing and unwilling performers. “Performance crime can be of two types. The first is a sort of ‘informed consent’ performance where the actors are aware of the production (sometimes recording or filming it themselves) and at least tacitly support its subsequent distribution — in this sense a crime performer is ‘behaving for the camera’ similar to an actor in a play. The second involves an uninformed, unwitting performance produced without performer knowledge or acquiescence — here a person is being recorded in a production similar to a nature documentary. Social media have caused performances of both types to explode,” he wrote in a blog for the London School of Economics’ US Centre.
While speaking to DNA, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We believe the vast majority of people are using Facebook Live to come together and share experiences in the moment with their friends and family. But if someone does violate our Community Standards while using Live, we want to interrupt these streams as quickly as possible when they’re reported to us. So we’ve given people a way to report violations during a live broadcast.”
The spokesperson added that Facebook recognises that there are unique challenges when it comes to content and safety for Live videos. “It’s a serious responsibility, we work hard to strike the right balance between enabling expression while providing a safe and respectful experience. We’re deeply committed to improving the effectiveness of how we handle reports of live content that violates our Community Standards.”
Shuchi Nagpal, Chief Education Officer of Asian School of Cyber Laws says that while Facebook or Periscope may be able to remove the source of content when crimes are live streamed, they cannot do it when the content is shared by another user to highlight the horrors of the crime. “This content can only be taken down if a central government – irrespective of the nation – takes a call on having that content pulled down. This is done in two cases: First, if the government finds the content offensive or second, if the government wants to protect the dignity of an individual,” she says.
Nagpal also adds that live streaming is the latest tool in the Dark Web arsenal. The dark web has traditionally been a hotbed for the distribution of pornography. This has now been augmented by the live streaming technology. This allows live porn (especially live child porn) to be directed within a time frame (usually pre-decided) through video platforms. The live streaming technology also allows for the customizing of this content based on the demands of the soliciting party. This kind of activity is also being used for “revenge porn” or even for blackmailing the victim(s). “It’s like the online version of a supari, if I were to put it crudely,” she added.
According to Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Asit Seth, teenagers are impulsive and don’t understand long-term consequences. “The frontal lobe in the brain that prevents impulsiveness is fully developed only when an individual is in his/her twenties,” he said.
Dr Seth adds that the problem of teenage crimes is greater in males because males get charged with testosterone (the male hormone) which results in aggressive behaviour. “This, accompanied by peer pressure, is why you see many teenagers resorting to crime,” he added.