Radical Recordmaking and Live Video Broadcasting

Rebecka Sheffield


On January 28 at about 4:30 pm, a representative from the Working Families Party
(WFP), a minor political party in the United States, began streaming live video of a protest unfolding at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York. Less than an hour after the feed went live, it had attracted more than one million views; by 6:00 pm, that number had grown to almost 3 million, with a sustained audience of about 70,000. Perched above the crowd on a pedestrian walkway, the documentarian, a man identifying himself as ‘Raphael’, offered some commentary as he filmed, noting at one point that he was an immigrant and a refugee who had lived in New York City for most of his life. Behind him, the crowd chanted, “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” The live feed ended after more than 3 hours and, by 7:00 pm that night, had accumulated 9.4 million views. The WFP’s video of the New York event, which would later be known as the #NoMuslimBan protest, was captured using Facebook Live, a streaming broadcast technology built with the Facebook application program interface (API). Facebook Live allows any registered user of the Face book social networking platform to stream videos using a mobile phone camera over wifi or cellular networks without any additional hardware or software. For social movement participants, the technology not only captures collective actions in real time, but also helps activists share larger movement goals as a way to mobilize movement constituents and, ideally, convert bystanders to movement adherents. This process of mobilizing for collective action for social change is key to growing and sustaining movement momentum. The technology is also mechanism for reporting events from multiple perspectives, while bypassing traditional media and avoiding state intervention. It has become an unlikely tool for creating records of events that have the potential to hold accountable perpetrators of crimes and mobilize social movements in ways previously unimaginable.

While the immediate impact of Facebook Live appears to democratize the process by which video broadcasts are created and disseminated, the long-term viability of these records, and even the mid-term prognosis about their future use, preservation and re-use within and outside of the Face book API remains to be seen. In other words, using Facebook Live might constitute as radical record making, but this practice does not necessarily translate into radical record keeping. This paper, in addition to introducing the utility of live streaming broadcast technology to the archival profession, also describes how this technology challenges us in ways that more traditional records have not. In particular, I will explore the implications that this technology had for documenting social movement activities and consider how the archival profession can respond to the increasing use of Facebook Live (and other live broadcast applications) to ensure that important records created with this technology are properly stewarded for future consultation.