Live streaming: what professionals need to know

Tik Tok, Yubo, Twitch, You Now, Periscope, Instagram Live - with the popularity of live streaming ever increasing amongst both children and adults, it’s important to understand how it works and the opportunities and risks it presents.

Earlier this year, Ofcom found that more than three quarters of 12-15 year olds who go online are aware of live streaming, with almost 2 in 10 having shared videos via live streaming platforms.

Our short guide explains what live streaming is; the opportunities and risks associated with this online activity; and what you can do to safeguard children and young people you work with.

What is live streaming?

Live streaming refers to the broadcasting of live video to an audience in real time, similar to live television. Live streams can also occur in private one-on-one chats, which cannot be viewed by others.

In public live streams, viewers can participate by ‘liking’ videos, and adding comments which can be seen by the streamer (the person broadcasting) and other viewers. On some live streaming platforms, viewers can also ‘gift’ live streamers. These ‘gifts’ can be converted into real currency which can be spent online by the streamer.

Children and young people can live stream about any topic of their choosing, such as: singing and dancing performances; sharing their views about a subject which is important to them; and live streaming live game play providing tips and advice to other gamers.

Apps and social networks such as Tik Tok, Yubo and Twitch are primarily live streaming platforms, and more recognised platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have live streaming functionality in their service, such as Twitter’s Periscope. The aim of many of these platforms is to have as many viewers as possible and have your video ‘trending’ online.

Although children, young people and even adults can live stream, this type of online activity is very popular amongst primary aged children. Research conducted by the Internet Watch Foundation suggests that this age group is more at risk when live streaming, finding that 98% of live streamed abuse on mostly private platforms showed children aged 13 and under.

Live streaming can be fun, exciting, and provides children and young people with many opportunities. However, there are also risks associated with this type of online activity.

The opportunities and risks

Live streaming platforms provide children and young people with a number of opportunities, such as:

  • developing their creativity – giving them the chance to produce their own content and be a presenter to a real audience;
  • giving them a platform to share their views and campaign about issues that matter to them;
  • allowing them to showcase their talents to friends and family, for example: dancing and singing performances, football tricks and telling jokes; and
  • providing children and young people with instant gratification, through ‘likes’ and positive comments received by peers.

Despite these many opportunities, there are also risks associated with live streaming and engaging with other people’s broadcasts.

Live streaming is unmoderated, unrehearsed and unpredictable. In a recent survey of nearly 40,000 pupils aged 7-16 conducted by the London Grid for Learning, 1 in 6 live streamers said that something had  happened while they were streaming  that made them feel uncomfortable, and more than 1 in 20 pupils  had been asked to change or get undressed in their stream.  

There are different risks that children and young people may encounter whilst watching streams and live streaming:

  • As streams are unmoderated, children and young people may access and view inappropriate content (such as sexual or violent videos) either accidentally or on purpose;
  • Often children and young people are unsupervised when live streaming, such as alone in private spaces like their bedroom or bathroom. 96% of live streamed abuse investigated by the Internet Watch Foundation showed a child on their own, in a home environment;
  • There could be hundreds (potentially thousands) of people watching a live stream at any time, including people who are looking to offend against children and young people. Offenders can then move a child from a public live stream to a private one;
  • Live streaming is ‘in the moment’; broadcasting live increases the risk of young people sharing content they wouldn’t share via a photo or pre-recorded video. Often young people tell us that they didn’t realise live videos could be recorded; 
  • Children and young people may be manipulated or coerced by offenders into undressing or creating self-generated indecent images while live streaming, through the use of trickery, sexualised games, ‘fake’ or pre-recorded footage or dares; and
  • Persistent comments from multiple offenders on a single live stream can be incredibly overwhelming, and may ‘normalise’ sexualised and inappropriate requests to children.

Although there are risks associated with live streaming, there are things you can do to support and safeguard the children and young people you work with.

What can you do to support children and young people?

It’s important that children and young people know that if something happens while live streaming, that it is not their fault, they’re not to blame, and they can come to you or another trusted adult for calm and non-judgemental support.

There are a number of resources available to support you to educate other professionals, parents/carers, and children and young people about this online activity.

Resources from Thinkuknow:

Thinkuknow’s #LiveSkills education package enables children and young people to explore the opportunities and risks presented by live streaming,  and builds their confidence to seek help if they need it. #LiveSkills includes resources for 8-18 year olds, parents and carers, and professionals. Find out more about #LiveSkills and download the package here

Find age-appropriate Thinkuknow advice articles to share with young people aged 11 – 13 and 14+ here.

Find advice on live streaming on the Thinkuknow parents’ and carers’ website here.

Are you a CEOP Ambassador? As part of your delivery of the Thinkuknow Introduction Course, you can download and deliver our new module on live streaming. Just log into your Thinkuknow account and then access the training module here.