Who needs TV? Millions of people tuned in to live video streams on Facebook and Twitter’s Periscope to follow the 25-hour sit-in staged by House Democrats advocating for gun-control laws that ended Thursday, a phenomenon both companies latched onto to hype the power of social media.
As of 10 a.m. Eastern Thursday, Facebook Live videos from 19 members of the U.S. House of Representatives had been viewed more than 3 million times.
“Something interesting is happening with Facebook Live that’s bringing more openness to the political process,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post Thursday.
After the House went into recess Wednesday afternoon at the behest of House Speaker Paul Ryan, C-SPAN’s live feed in the chamber was cut off under Congressional rules, and Ryan (who repeatedly dismissed the sit-in as a “publicity stunt”) refused to allow TV cameras in. At that point, several members of Congress and their staffers began live-streaming video on Facebook and Periscope from their smartphones, feeds that C-SPAN and other networks picked up. The standoff spawned the hashtags #HoldTheFloor and #NoBillNoBreak, as Dems tried to force debate on gun control bills introduced in the Republican-controlled House after the June 12 massacre at an Orlando nightclub.
For Facebook, it was a moment that underscored its strategy to bring live video to the platform. The 1.6 billion-user service reportedly is spending more than $50 million in deals with media companies and celebrities to broadcast on Facebook. “Live is unfiltered and real,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s a way to share anything you want with the world using just your phone. And it’s bringing us moments we wouldn’t see otherwise — from birthday parties to locker room celebrations to late-night sessions in the United States Capitol.”
.@SpeakerRyan, we will not leave without acting for the victims & families of reckless gun violence. #NoBillNoBreak pic.twitter.com/eTB1WMATMd
— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) June 23, 2016
Viewers also turned to Periscope. According to Twitter, tweets from Representatives Scott Peters and Eric Swalwell with Periscope broadcasts had been been viewed over 1 million times and counting as of 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; the company did not have updated data at press time.
“This is an example of what drives us,” Periscope co-founder and CEO Kayvon Beykpour said in a statement. “Twitter and Periscope take you where other cameras don’t — letting you experience breaking news through the eyes of those living it.”
All that said, the live video on Facebook and Periscope was low quality and lacked the context and commentary that TV news brings to the table. (Also worth noting: BuzzFeed’s video of an exploding watermelon on Facebook Live in April currently has been viewed 10 million times.) And ultimately, it seems certain that the sit-in would not have spread like wildfire on social media in the same way if House Republicans had not shut off TV access.
LIVE on #Periscope https://t.co/AYb9feENJB
— Scott Peters (@ScottPetersSD) June 23, 2016
Pictured above: Image from the Rep. Eric Swalwell’s Facebook Live video