In the wake of the horrific shooting of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, a popular on-air reporter and a camera man from WDBJ in Roanoke Virginia, along with the woman they were interviewing, many Facebook and Twitter users were disturbed to see the first person video account of the shooting from the maniac himself. Vester Lee Flanagan II recorded his despicable actions and posted them to both Facebook and Twitter. This video was shared many times across the various media as it was the hot news of the day. The problem many people encountered was that on Facebook and Twitter, uploaded video autoplays once the user has scrolled to the video. This led to a good number of people viewing these murders with neither their knowledge nor their consent.
As this is the default setting for users of both sites, many people may not be aware that they can change their settings to turn video autoplay off. A number of sites have posted how-to stories on the process of turning this setting off. You can click any of those links if you want to fiddle with your settings to have more control over what does and doesn’t play in your news feed without your permission.
Facebook in particular has faced some criticism in how it deals with native video on its site. As a broader issue, autoplay and the way Facebook calculates video views leads to some rather dubious view counts for videos hosted on the site. Rather than calculating a view after 30 seconds of watching, as YouTube does, Facebook counts a view after 3 seconds of watching. This accounts for seemingly unbelievable view counts in a short amount of time. If someone is scrolling down their news feed and a video starts auto playing, if the user doesn’t scroll past it in less than 3 seconds that momentary and possibly unintentional “view” is counted. In this way, Facebook will seem much more lucrative to content producers over rival video hosting websites that calculate viewership with more traditional metrics.
If you can host a video on Facebook and get 100,000 views in 3 days because of autoplaying, and you can take those viewership numbers to an advertiser to negotiate a deal, why would you want to go anywhere else? You definitely wouldn’t get those kinds of numbers on YouTube or Vimeo. You actually have to click the play button and watch the video for at least 30 seconds to be counted as a view one either of those sites. It’s shady, deceitful, and quite underhanded. But, hey, it’s business in the digital age, right?
This tragedy highlights, among other things, the inherent disservice autoplay gives to users of both sites. Even though the accounts were suspended fairly quickly once people started flagging the videos, the feature still exposed plenty of people to gruesome images they definitely did not want to see. Do yourself a favor and turn autoplay off. There’s enough popular garbage out there on the internet. This tripe doesn’t need your inadvertent help to promote it.