Real-Time Perverts and Trolls Pose Challenges for Periscope Marketers

Chat feature makes it easy for jerks to pollute video streams

Brands like Red Bull and Mountain Dew began using Periscope immediately after the real-time mobile video streaming app was released on March 26. We've already addressed the possible legal pitfalls that businesses could encounter, but what about the potential marketing problems afoot?

Specifically, what about a brand's video stream getting mucked up by sexual or offensive comments from random users? sex editor Emma Barker reported that the app quickly became filled with men taking advantage of anonymity to sexually harass women. Corporate entities and their on-camera spokespeople could face similar harassment, as well.

Here's an example of obscenity on Periscope.


Periscope allows viewers with smartphones to submit comments, which then temporarily appear over the top of the video being streamed. The video broadcaster doesn't have real-time editing controls. Imagine retailers such as American Apparel or Hollister streaming video of their teen female models, with a bunch of hormone-crazed high school boys digitally chirping in. Well-meaning moments could easily be ruined by offensive language.

"As for the underage girls, it would be my advice to stay away from featuring [them]," advised Benjamin Hordell, partner at interactive shop DXagency. 

At the same time, Twitter-owned Periscope does offer a few ways for marketers to somewhat control the environment. 

"Any user can also block another user, without leaving the stream," instructed a Twitter rep via email. "To block a user, tap their comment, then [tap] the gear icon in the upper left, then tap 'block user.'"

Blocking a user eliminates that individual's ability to see your video streams, chats or hearts (which is Persicope's equivalent to Facebook likes and Twitter favorites). But blocking a person doesn't affect whether other users—such as that person's followers—can see your content.

To give users a little more control, on Wednesday, the social media company debuted a follower-only mode, which, as the name suggests, limits who can comment on your livestream to the folks who follow you. Additionally, Periscope has created a dedicated content review squad. When issues are reported, the team will review them against the app's content policy, which prohibits illegal activity, harassment and abuse.

But once vulgar comments take place, they live on and show up in the re-broadcast video, which is available for 24 hours before disappearing.

So in order to weed out real-time trolls, it appears that marketers will need a small team of their own when using Periscope. While the handful of brands we reached didn't want to comment, a few agencies weighed in on how to handle Periscope perverts.

"We anticipate these things will happen and will work with our clients to build safeguards and protocols when they do," said Steve Ocheltree, head of intelligence at Sew, a Los Angeles digital shop. "Should brands be scared to experiment with Persicope? Nope. They just need to respect it and plan appropriately like we'd advise they do with any other channel." 

Hordell of DXagency warned against brands being too lackadaisical. 

"As with any social campaign, you must not 'set it and forget it,' and you have to be prepared in advance for what could go wrong," he said. "That being said, if you are playing the 'sex sells' card, it could work into your favor. The key word is 'could.'"

Lastly, Shareablee CMO Tracy David contended that media players like MTV and Ellen are already managing their Periscope efforts just fine.

"All social networks wrestle with this problem and, for the most part, it hasn't been a problem that we have seen scare publishers or brands away," she said.

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