On Facebook Live, emojis and distortion

This is what happens when a screenshot of a Facebook Live broadcast during the Westminster attack is taken out of context.

Armed police respond outside Parliament during an incident on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain March 22, 2017 [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]
Armed police respond outside Parliament during an incident on Westminster Bridge in London, Britain March 22, 2017 [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

During the course of Wednesday’s attack in London, several screenshots of Al Jazeera’s rolling coverage on Facebook Live were circulated on Twitter, Reddit and other websites.

Some Twitter users honed in on the fact that some of our audience on Facebook was reacting to the broadcast with the 😂 or ❤️️ emojis.

During any Facebook Live broadcast – from a US presidential debate to April the giraffe – people use emojis. In the fertile imagination of some, the smattering of happy emojis was used to accuse our viewers – and even “the Muslim world” as a whole – of laughing at the attack, which left four people, including the attacker, dead and dozens wounded.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 


Even an Australian member of parliament tweeted about it.


Here’s what we actually know:

A screenshot comparing reaction betwen Al Jazeera (left) and BBC shows similar usage of “laugh” and “heart” emojis by viewers

1. Out of 5,200 total reactions, the “laugh” and “heart” emojis were used 280 times. A similar proportion of “laugh” and “heart” emojis to total reactions are found on Wednesday’s Westminster Facebook Live videos by the BBC, Sky News and CNN. The average ratio is about 5 percent. One person can also flood a live video with emojis, making it seem like a large number of people is reacting to what is being broadcast

2. There is no way to verify the intent behind emoji use. A “like” can mean a lot of things. 

Locations of Westminster live viewers 

3. The locations of people using the “laugh” and “heart” emojis included the UK, Kenya and Sweden, among others. They were not specific to any one region.

4. To make the leap of faith about the viewers’ religion is even more implausible. This data is not publicly available.

So what’s the real story here?

During breaking news situations, misinformation is often spread and shared widely. One of the accounts that tweeted about our live feed also misidentified the attacker. They were then retweeted by Donald Trump Jr, the son of US President Donald Trump.

BuzzFeed News debunked the most widely-shared claims from the Westminster attack and this tweet, shared by content verification expert Alastair Reid during the attack, points out some things people should keep in mind during similar situations:


“Fake news” fabricators will jump on any opportunity to peddle their distortions – for commercial or ideological reasons – especially when emotions are running high.

In this case, the attempted message was clear: “The Muslim world is laughing at the victims”. The facts say otherwise.


Source: Al Jazeera

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