Live Streaming Apps Changing Who Controls The Message

Jun 24, 2016

A few days ago, a group of Democrats in Congress began a sit-in on the chamber floor, protesting the end of the House session without a vote on gun control measures.

Republican House speaker Paul Ryan called the protest a publicity stunt and gaveled the session to a close. And because both parties agreed years ago that the cameras would be turned off when the House is not in session, cameras that broadcast the session live on C-SPAN went dark.

But the protest continued -- and video of it was being shared worldwide thanks to Twitter and Facebook apps on the cell phones of several house members.

The Periscope feed of California Congressman Scott Peters was a source of information on the protest for thousands of viewers on line and by the media.

Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook’s live streaming features ended up being the only source of video of the 25-hour protest. And as a result, networks from Fox News to CNN and C-SPAN started streaming the grainy images to the public.

This isn't the first time the party in charge turned out the lights when they didn't want a vote. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi pulled a similar move in 2008 when she was house speaker. 

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies said video streaming apps weren't around back then – in fact Periscope and Facebook Live are each only about a year old.

“If nobody can get images out, your publicity stunt, as Paul Ryan called it, doesn’t work very well,” she said.

And McBride says this changes who controls the message, especially for the House leadership.

“Now that everybody has a camera and the ability to distribute it through these live streaming apps that power is gone,” she said.