Livestreaming is a video feature available on many popular apps that allows users to share real-time video. Video conferencing is a popular form of live streaming that is currently being utilized by schools across the world to facilitate e-learning. These livestreams are usually very secure, employing “waiting rooms” to screen participants, passwords, and other security features. This type of livestreaming differs from the type of livestreaming that is available on social media. These social media livestreams are often made to generate funny content, share thoughts, showcase a skill or talent, or share an event with friends and followers.
Livestreams differ from recorded video in two key ways. First, these videos happen live and therefore are not moderated, meaning explicit, illegal, or other disturbing content may appear on the stream without warning. And second, unlike traditional videos, after the livestream is concluded, unless otherwise specified by the user, the video “disappears”. However, videos could be recorded, saved, and later posted by users who were watching the initial livestream. The “impermanence” of live streaming makes it popular with younger users, but the lack of moderation and ability to surreptitiously record streams presents challenges to protecting children’s safety.
In fact, reports of exploitive livestreams have increased in recent years. In these reports, ill-intentioned individuals, aware of the unique vulnerability of children online, use livestreaming video to entice children to undress, expose themselves on camera, engage in sexual activity independently and with others, and engage in self-harming behaviors.
In many of the suspected incidents of child sexual exploitation involving livestreams that are reported to NCMEC’s CyberTipline, the child engages in sexual or self-harming behaviors in response to comments from viewers coaxing them for the content. Other reports have included instances of children responding to viewers and divulging personal information including where they go to school, their phone number, and even their home address.
The risks involved with livestreaming on social media make it a tool better suited for older teens and experienced internet users who have grounded understandings of their privacy controls and follower-base, and a clear understanding of what constitutes acceptable, responsible behavior online. It’s best for younger children to limit their use of livestreaming to video conferencing and other educational situations.