Tech & The Web

When You See Facebook Videos Showing Child Abuse, Do This

From time to time, newsrooms receive messages to alert them about disturbing Facebook videos purported to show child or animal abuse.

It amazes me from time to time when people reach out to a television newsroom about disturbing Facebook videos they’ve spotted.

The videos sometimes show apparent child abuse or animal abuse; some videos appear to show some sort of sexual abuse, though I’ve never seen one (fortunately) that depicts anything like that.

I’ve also been notified of Facebook videos that show adults being kidnapped or assaulted.

What all of the videos this post is focused on have in common is one disturbing fact: the TV newsroom is the only entity the Facebook user has chosen to report it to.

I’ve never understood this.

Maybe it’s because people think the news media somehow has the same authority law enforcement does.

We don’t.

But I’ll give you another example: someone called our newsroom a few months back claiming she had been out shopping with her young child when a man, apparently aggravated about them not moving fast enough through a parking lot, aimed a gun at the woman and her child.

The first question I asked when I took the call was which law enforcement agency she had called. The reason for this is simple: I want to have some confirmation from police or deputies that the incident is being investigated; often, I can get even more information from them, particularly if they have since found corroborating information from other witnesses and can confirm more details that the addled victim hadn’t yet remembered.

Her answer: “I’m about to call them.”

About to.

She called a newsroom before calling police when someone had pointed a gun at her and her child.

I’ve worked in TV newsrooms for almost 27 years and I have to be honest here: if someone had pointed a gun at me, it wouldn’t even occur to me to call a newsroom.

I’d call 911. Immediately.

I might get around to calling a newsroom after police had responded and after I’d calmed down a bit.

The same applies to Facebook videos that show people or animals in jeopardy.

So what are you supposed to do?

Facebook makes it clear in its health center:

“If you see images on Facebook of a child being physically abused or sexually exploited, please contact your local law enforcement immediately. They may be able to identify and rescue the child. We also ask that you report the photo or video to Facebook.”

A law enforcement agency can immediately begin to investigate. They can also subpoena user records from Facebook to track down the source of the video.

The news media has no such ability to receive that information from Facebook.

So it’s important to notify law enforcement first.

Facebook, since the video is posted on its service, would have the information necessary to track the source of the video on its own. It might even reach out to law enforcement directly once they are made aware of the video on its platform.

Together, law enforcement and Facebook can work to determine who posted the original video and whether anyone is actually in danger or whether it might be some kind of hoax designed to go viral. (This has happened as well.)

News media’s more effective role in the process comes after the possibility of a genuine threat is confirmed: we then work with law enforcement to get the information out.

I’m not saying you should never notify a newsroom when you see something that makes it appear that someone’s life may be in danger.

I’m simply saying that common sense ought to tell you that the newsroom shouldn’t be your first call.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.