Media warned about dangers of pre-roll ads on live streams

The increasing reliance of editors and journalists on live streams for footage of unfolding incidents such as terror attacks and police shootings has opened up major questions about the use of pre-roll advertising and the ability to control comments and emojis, First Draft News’s Claire Wardle has warned.

Speaking at a workshop on media ethics and Facebook Live, Wardle said media outlets have to look more closely at the ethics around having ads in front of distressing footage and also recognise how the practice detracts from the user experience.

“The issue of pre-roll ads as a means for revenue to support news, particularly in the States, there is a recognition now that that’s not from a user experience the best thing to do,” Wardle told Mumbrella.

“Two years ago there was a sense that it’s the only way we can make money, now there is a recognition that users don’t want that. If we don’t improve the user experience of our news sites we are going to lose people. It doesn’t help the news experience.”

She said with graphic footage and fake news combined with programmatic buying, brands no longer knew where their messages were going, leading to a retreat from many news sites.

“Increasingly there are advertisers saying ‘Hang on, my trusted brand is sitting alongside a fake news site, or my trusted brand is a pre-roll in front of the Orlando Castillo video [a live stream video of a black American man who was shot dead by a police officer in front of his wife and child while reaching for his wallet] – that is not what I signed up for’.

“We are increasingly seeing advertisers saying this is problematic for us, news output that is shaky in quality, either it is fake or it is graphic, we don’t want to see that anymore. Advertisers are going to push back and say we don’t want to see that anymore.”

She warned that the issue was a major challenge for newsrooms which were having deal with unfiltered content for the first time and make judgement calls about things that were happening in real time and being delivered by people with no news experience.

“Newsrooms used to get filtered content, it didn’t feel like it was filtered but but you had people on the ground who were professional photographers who would know when to stop filming because at the most basic level they would know that broadcasters would not use it,” she said.

“The problem is that eyewitnesses aren’t thinking that way and they have the ability to just keep filming and they are almost in shock themselves and they are holding that phone and all of this footage is coming in.

“Often cameramen would only get somewhere after the call had come in and they would get to the aftermath, now you have eyewitnesses on the scene as the bomb explodes or the seconds afterwards.”

She said that journalists were struggling to understand the impact of the images they were receiving and feeding through to their audiences because they have not had the conversation about what should not be published or broadcast.

Wardle advised editors to “plan out what September 11 would look like” with the new tools available to them.

In particular, she noted that enabling a live feed came with other issues such as moderating the inevitable comments and even the public’s use of emojis.

At the same time she said that members of the public often had no idea what it was like for something they were streaming to go viral and they were often unprepared for the results.

She said in some countries there was little compunction to blur graphic imagery but said journalists and editors needed to be aware  of what audiences were willing to tolerate and what was ethical.

“Remembering the difference between dignity versus graphic imagery,” she said.

“We always talk about graphic imagery but the dignity of somebody I don’t think we always think about in the same way.

“Ninety nine percent of the Facebook Lives everyday are the birthday parties and the celebrities and the rest of it, we only hear about it when it’s the graphic stuff, but how are we ready for graphic stuff?”

Screenshots from such feeds are also a minefield for editors, with Wardle noting that previously the “moment of death” so often captured in videos today would not have been used.

“For me the screenshots that we choose are so powerful and thinking about the impact on the audience. We have people live streaming their own suicides, we have people live streaming the aftermath of an explosion and body parts strewn around, what does that mean as journalists, how does the industry think through where the boundaries are. What do we show and don’t show, what do we blur and don’t blur? We feel as journalists we have always had this material but we now have access to imagery we didn’t have access to before.”


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