Periscope, the live video app, can perhaps best be described as akin to the worst bar in the seediest part of town. Spend some time on the app and you will see what I mean. No one seems to be trying to hide anything that happens there or, more importantly, to regulate it.
If you imagine our hypothetical seedy bar, you might see people using drugs openly, prostitutes working the area and maybe some random drunken sex acts in a nearby alley. There might be an itinerant preacher outside on the sidewalk urging patrons and passersby to repent and find God and wandering through it all a bunch of teen/tween kids taking it all in and participating as they choose.
Screech! Hold on, what was that last part? There are little kids in that environment on Periscope and no one is doing anything about it? Yeah, pretty much the way it seems from my observations over the last two weeks (although I did hear one girl of about 10 say she has been kicked off 3 times so far for inappropriate behavior).What is Periscope?
What is Periscope?
What is Periscope and how did this all happen is the next logical question. I tend to keep up on new stuff on the web so I first heard about Periscope last year (2015) when it was purchased by Twitter for an undisclosed amount estimated to be between 50 and 100 million dollars. At the time I didn’t really explore the app although I think I downloaded it. I could mention here that it is a free app with no age restriction but does have a teen rating on the iTunes store where it is an Editors Choice.
Periscope is yet another Silicon Valley success story. I have seen glowing reviews of the app on the web and last week they announced they were adding advertising to the platform to monetize video highlights for selected broadcasters.
Now that live streamed video is catching on like wildfire with everyday people via their mobile devices on Facebook live video and YouTube live streaming, I thought I should have a look at Periscope in order to become more familiar with it as a web marketing agency in case it held opportunities for clients.
We are all pretty much aware of what is and is not to be found on both YouTube and Facebook. Pretty tame stuff really with absolutely no porn allowed. This has always been the way it is and what we are used to in mainstream social networks. I was expecting pretty much the same thing when I logged into twitter for the first time. Maybe that is why I was so shocked by what I found and by the seeming apathy from Twitter, Periscope and the user community themselves. While there are a lot of decent broadcasters, some famous names you might recognize and a good number of people preaching one sort of religion or another there is a darker side to Periscope.
What is the problem with Periscope?
If you open the app and go to the area where live broadcasts are listed, you will see a simple list of broadcasts with a screenshot from the live stream to the left and a title (if any) and the screen name of the broadcaster to the right. Pretty straightforward. Anyone who has the app can log in and go to this common area and click on any of the broadcasts and watch it. This is important to remember if you are a parent because your kids do not have to go into video broadcasts to see anything, there is plenty right there in the common area. Plus, their location is pinpointed on a map on their profile unless they know enough to disable location sharing.
Here is a gallery of screenshots I took in that common area where all of the current broadcasts are listed. Imagine yourself to be a 9 or 10 year old kid logging in to see if you can find some friends to chat with. You can click on the images to enlarge them but I have pixelated out the kids eyes a bit and some of the more graphic stuff that I do not think I can post without getting a flag of some sort as pornography. All of these images were taken on the same day last week within about a 8 hour time period (images are screenshots from a mobile device and are time stamped at the top). I actually thought this would be a much longer story until I realized it is the images that tell the story and tell it far better than I could (all images are photos of the public online user stream and publicly available). You can click on the image to open it in a larger version in a lightbox or right click on the image to copy the image URL and open it in a new window to see it full size in order to verify what I am seeing in it.
Periscope Screen Shots
I think these images capture what I consider to be the problem perfectly. As described above in the imaginary seedy bar example you have teens and tweens and younger kids mixed in among drug users, masturbating men and flashing women (also the occasional self declared prostitute from a legal brothel in Nevada). At first I was just looking at the platform from a marketing perspective and started going into broadcasts in order to add the broadcaster (I thought you had to do that) and this was when I realized things were definitely not what they should be. Couple this anything goes public environment with the ability to broadcast privately to a handpicked audience and the potential for abuse is obvious.
If you are a parent or just want to verify what I have said here, feel free to download the Periscope app to your iPhone or Android device and check it out for yourself. This is not to say there are not useful or interesting broadcasts on Periscope, there are. Perhaps though this mix of “business as usual” video streams with all kinds of more seedy content (last night I saw someone streaming a porn movie) is what makes it so glaringly bizarre.
To their (Periscope’s) defense the audience (community members) can flag comments and broadcasts as inappropriate. The problem seems to be that they do not do it often enough or that the Periscope administrators do not take it seriously enough. Besides, the broadcasts (and accompanying screenshot) appear in the public timeline instantly when the broadcast starts and will remain there until someone (or enough people) flag it as inappropriate and the whole time it is there the kids present can see it. So taking it down after someone complains does not solve the problem. Either way, I think that the “Periscope” is broken and Twitter does need to say “down Periscope” until they get it fixed so that it is the family friendly application it was supposed to be, or is designated as an adults only app.