Alleged Rape That Was Live-Streamed Shows Challenges Of Real-Time Video | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Morning Edition

Alleged Rape Live-Streamed On Periscope Shows Challenges Of Flagging Real-Time Video

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 rape of her 17-year-old friend.

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

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

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

"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," he 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.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X