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Live-Streaming Of Alleged Rape Shows Challenges Of Flagging Video In Real Time

Updated at 12:24 p.m. ET, with Facebook statement

An 18-year-old woman in Ohio is being charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and a variant of distributing child pornography.

What led to this extraordinary list of alleged crimes? Live-streaming the alleged rape of her 17-year-old friend.

Prosecutors say Marina Lonina broadcast the incident on the Twitter-owned app Periscope. Lonina claims through her lawyer that she live-streamed the alleged rape because she was trying to get the man to stop.

But Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor Ron O'Brien offered a different version.

"She continued to live-stream it and she told the police that she continued because she got caught up in the likes that were showing on her screen," he said.

Raymond Boyd Gates, 29, is accused of kidnapping, rape and sexual battery of a 17-year-old girl whose friend live-streamed the alleged assault.
Franklin County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office / AP
Raymond Boyd Gates, 29, is accused of kidnapping, rape and sexual battery of a 17-year-old girl whose friend live-streamed the alleged assault.

"And she didn't call 911," he continued. "She giggled throughout."

O'Brien identified 29-year-old Raymond Boyd Gates as the alleged rapist and said all three appeared to be "under the influence. And at least the victim was highly intoxicated."

"You can hear the victim screaming, 'Stop,' 'Don't,' 'Please,' crying," O'Brien said.

Predictable Problems

Many of us have had the experience of fixating on our smartphone, waiting for reactions to things we share, hooked on every little notification. But here, that disconnect between what was allegedly happening in the room and what Lonina was paying attention to appears to be extreme.

Live video is the new selfie: Twitter's Periscope, Facebook Live and smaller platforms like YouNow and Veetle are all the rage.

Veetle chief technology officer Ethan Wang says the problems are predictable. He recalls an incident back in 2008 when a teenager live-streamed his own suicide. None of today's companies is investing in public safety, Wang said.

"People are more interested in making the platform more open, more available and closer to real time," he said. "And the trade-off here is you get undesirable things happening."

With still photos, there's technology — automated algorithms — that can help flag nudity or beheadings. Live video is different.

Algorithms can't sift through moving images the same way. They can't, for example, tell whether someone is waving a handgun or a smartphone. And no computer program can predict what live humans will do next.

Few Details On Countermeasures

Wang said you could in theory introduce a transmission delay of a few seconds — as some TV and radio stations do. But he says no Internet company would do that voluntarily.

"When you're streaming live video, there's this interactive component," he said. "If you put a 30-second delay in front of that, it makes it impossible for people to interact with the streamer."

Twitter declined to provide NPR with any details on how it enforces its policy against explicit content on Periscope. Facebook said it formed a team to review videos that users have flagged as inappropriate. But the team can't respond in real time, and the company declined to share details on how many employees work for the team or how many complaints they process.

In a statement, Facebook said: "We believe the vast majority of people are using Live to come together and share experiences in the moment with their friends and family, so we want the Live experience to be as immediate as possible. We encourage anyone watching a Live video to report violations of our Community Standards while they are watching; they don't have to wait until the Live broadcast is over."

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Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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