How Periscoping Something as Simple as a July 4 Parade Can Take a Dark Turn

When ISIS claims to be watching your feed

David Armano, Edelman's global strategy director, has more than 70,000 followers on Twitter, which he joined back in 2007, less than a year after the platform was born. He's an early adopter and social media savvy, and he is regularly invited to forums to speak on subjects pertaining to marketing technology. 

So rest assured that Armano "gets" that there are trolls on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even nascent Periscope. His skin is social-media thick. But what happened to him online during the Fourth of July weekend caught him completely off guard. He called the experience an "unsettling" look at how real-time sharing takes on new meaning in a live-streaming world. 

Armano lives in a small town outside Chicago that holds an annual Fourth of July parade that feels lifted straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. Think classic cars, floats pulled by pickup trucks, marching bands and star-spangled balloons.

So he logged onto Periscope—the live-streaming mobile app—to share the unusually wholesome piece of Americana with the rest of the world. People ate it up like cotton candy; Armano said there were 1,000 people watching at one point, with many offering positive comments from far-flung places around the globe. 

"Then there were a couple little [negative] things here and there like 'America sucks,'" the digital marketer said.

A couple naysayers then grew into several haters actively participating in his stream with text-based remarks. Still, not a huge deal. Armano had set his Periscope stream as "open," meaning anyone watching on the app could comment. So he was hardly shocked by a little negativity. 

"People will come and heckle," he added. "And it seemed pretty benign." 

But then Armano said he noticed contentious back-and-forth dialogue between one agitator and those who didn't share the same negative mindset toward the United States. At one point, he saw the commenter claim he or she was a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the terrorist organization known as ISIS. Others called that person's bluff, but the commenter was steadfast that he or she belonged to the group.

Armano quickly blocked negative users from commenting, using an anti-trolling Periscope feature. And he cut the feed shortly thereafter. 

"Whether he was or wasn't [with ISIS], it still freaked me out a little bit," he said. 

Armano worried that terrorists could use footage of the Rockwellian scene to scout his hometown as a location for possible acts of violence around future Independence Day celebrations. 

"Here I was showing a picture-perfect parade," he said. "Basically, I was providing a snapshot for what it would look like if you [were a terrorist] who wanted to go after a soft target." 

Armano refrained from naming his hometown for cautionary reasons. But he's not encouraging people to stop live-streaming. His Fourth of July anecdote points to a bigger reality—you never know who's watching your real-time mobile broadcast. And for marketers, it's a cautionary tale about the trolling that can happen on Periscope and Meerkat

"But with time, I think there will be better options in place for self-policing [who gets to view one's live streams]," he said.