Pokémon Go, Facebook Live, and the implications of real-time social media

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t all social media instantaneous? A live stream of posts and photos from friends you rarely even see anymore? Well, in a way, yes. However, social media has now crossed over into the realm of instant, real-time action and updates — making this form of media truly ‘live’.

This isn’t an overnight sensation though; real-time media has been on the rise for a while now. In fact, it was something we predicted the rise of in 2016. But with the culmination of Facebook Live making news headlines recently, and the almost-overnight domination of Pokémon Go, real-time has been catapulted into the spotlight, in a big way. 

What do we mean by ‘real-time’?

Real-time has been injected into our social spheres through features and apps such as Facebook Live and Periscope. As with live TV, these allow us to broadcast ourselves, and see our favourite celebrities, in ‘in-the-moment’ videos. It also allows for instant interaction with these videos. Celebrities have often used the Facebook Live feature for Q&A opportunities with their fans, for example.

Augmented reality, however, could be considered the next step. Take, for instance, the sudden resurgence in popularity of Pokémon, brought on by the launch of the intensely popular gaming app, Pokémon Go. Using location data and Google Maps technology, the game combines your real-life location and surroundings with the fictional world of Pokémon characters. It is not the first app to do this, but it has certainly brought the concept to a much wider audience.

Pokémon Go: what’s the hype?

Since its launch, Pokémon Go has had a huge impact in such a short space of time. As evidenced in the hype surrounding it, the app has been a massive hit with die-hard Pokémon fans, and newcomers to the phenomenon alike. Aside from the fun people have playing the game, it has secondary benefits alongside. Firstly, it has been lauded for getting people out exercising. Unlike many online games or apps of a similar nature, Pokémon Go is an active game, encouraging people to explore their local area — fitness is actually required in the game in order to progress and ‘hatch eggs’. Not only that, but it is forging communities out of total strangers. Due to the nature of the game, where, in order to train or battle Pokémon, you have to congregate at ‘Pokémon Gyms’ or ‘PokéStops’ in public areas, you’re constantly engaging with people, whether through the app, or in real life. Surely, the very definition of what social media is supposed to be then?

The gaming craze has also made headlines for some more sinister reasons: people have been using the features inbuilt in the app to lure gamers to secluded spots, seeing the opportunity for crime — specifically theft. It has also been well reported that a gamer in Wyoming discovered a dead body whilst playing the game. Not exactly a great headline to be associated with as a brand.

Facebook Live: changing the news

As suggested, Facebook Live has bridged the gap even more between celebrity culture and fans, making the celebrity world somewhat more relatable — even attainable. What is clear is that it provides celebrities, brands, and publications with the means to communicate with their audience on a much more direct level, creating deeper relationships, and boosting engagement; benefitting both parties.

Of course, the news headlines that Facebook Live has been associated with of late will likely not have escaped your attention. On July 6th, video footage was broadcast live through Facebook of Philando Castile’s murder at the hands of police in America. A lot has been discussed around this horrific event, with articles indicating that this marks a shift in the way the public engage with news. We are becoming the source of our own news reports, taking on the journalist’s role ourselves. Whether or not you think this ‘real journalism’ is a move in the right direction, the key questions, as far as the role of social media is concerned, surround the morality of such footage being streamed live online — visible to anyone.

Since this event, there have been further Facebook Live videos depicting graphic murders, live on camera for the world to see. Facebook are currently looking into security and censorship rights surrounded this type of footage. However, the nature of live streaming makes this a very difficult issue to overcome.

What are the pros and cons?

Certainly from a tech point of view, the rise of real-time social and augmented reality are great in terms of showing the progressive strides social media is taking, and the extent of the impact it has. They are also great tools for marketers, brands, and celebrities, trying to engage with their audience on a more meaningful level.

However, there are some serious questions that must be addressed, as we extend the boundaries of these real-time features. Namely, we must be concerned with the implications to public safety, censorship, and the ethics of the way these platforms are used. Instant video streaming could take a page out of live television’s book, through the use of broadcast delay, where live programming has several seconds of delay to account for malfunctions and the prevention of inappropriate content. Also, in America, for example, scheduled network programming will be interrupted to allow for the live broadcast of important national or international events, such as severe weather reports in your local area. These are principles that we could see in live social media streaming: making it more local and relevant to you, and the prevention of undesirable material being shown, through delays. Whether that is feasible or not remains to be seen.

We must also be aware, as users of this developing technology, that we are opening the doors even wider on our own privacy. Pokémon Go, for example, will have access to your phone’s location services, essentially becoming a tracking device for your whereabouts.

Haven’t we seen this type of tech before?

Yes actually, we have. Remember the augmented reality gadget known as Google Glass? (Don’t worry, not many will). It was an epic failure. However, this was largely down to confusion surrounding the project, and bad marketing. People didn’t really know whether it was an experiment or the finished product — essentially a rather expensive beta version that wasn’t even sold in retail stores. There were health and safety concerns too, much like the ones brought to our attention with Pokémon Go.

So what really is the current state of ‘real-time’ software? Well, it’s up and running. It works, kind of. And its having great success. It certainly needs to be refined, and there needs to be changes to censorship. But we can certainly see, at the moment, that augmented reality and real-time social media have an intertwined future together.

If you’ve got any questions regarding real-time social media, or if you just fancy battling on Pokémon Go, let us know and we’ll answer the call. 

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