Being Targeted (By Periscope) For Exposing The Truth

My Periscope account was “permanently suspended” two days ago.

Considering the amount of time (and money!) I have poured into building an audience on Periscope over the last couple years, this is beyond frustrating. Since Periscope refuses to provide specific details as to why my account has been suspended, I can only speculate. I have repeatedly asked Periscope to provide additional information, to no avail.

Before I share the ridiculousness of my Periscope experience over the past few days, I want to be very clear about something. I fully realize the risks associated with building an audience elsewhere, i.e. on a platform owned by someone else (as opposed to, let’s say, building one’s own email list). This is not about me being upset that in due time, Periscope will cease to exist as a standalone app, and I (along with all other Periscope users) will lose the audience that I have diligently built. This is about (what appears to be) censorship, poor communication, a lack of accountability, and absolutely zero transparency provided by Periscope to its users. The last three points have characterized how Periscope has operated since its inception.

I first noticed that my Periscope account had been disabled this past Friday night. My immediate reaction was to fire off this tweet (additional context will be provided shortly):

Next, I checked my email, figuring Periscope would have written to me to communicate that they were disabling my account. After seeing nothing from them, I emailed several Periscope employees (I also copied the Periscope Help email address) to let them know that my account was currently disabled and asked that they immediately restore it (after all, as I stated to them, I had done nothing wrong).

Considering it was a Friday night, kudos to the Periscope team for getting my account restored within 30 minutes of receiving my email.

While I was happy that my account had been restored so quickly, I still wanted to know what I had done to justify Periscope disabling my account. I emailed that same group to thank them for restoring my account and asked for them to please provide me with an explanation as to why my account was suspended. Here is the response I received from Periscope:

No specific answer was provided, other than stating that “one or more of [my] broadcasts was found to be in violation of the Periscope Community Guidelines.” Periscope’s Community Guidelines can be found here. Before I continue, I would like to highlight that there are hundreds of Periscope broadcasts daily which break several of their guidelines, where in most cases those actions don’t result in account suspension. Periscope’s non-specific response is followed up with a threat, namely that “another violation of this kind will result in the permanent suspension of [my] account.”

This, of course, is an unacceptable response. How am I (or anyone, for that matter) to avoid ‘another violation’ and permanent suspension, when I don’t know what specifically is being alleged to have been violated in the first place? I still have no idea what caused Periscope to suspend my account three days ago, hence I can only speculate.

Aside, Start

Now I know what you’re all thinking: “Geoff, but why did you tweet a screenshot of a half exposed breast to Periscope’s CEO, @kayvz?”

If you look closely at that screenshot, you can see that it is from an account that has a silver badge, meaning that it was broadcast from an account that is part of Periscope’s VIP Program. Among other things, the VIP Program provides increased visibility to accounts that have been accepted into the program. A badge is akin to Periscope saying “this account provides content that we’re comfortable putting in front of our users,” hence increased visibility is one of the benefits provided to members of the VIP Program.

For various reasons (I will save that for a different post), I have been critical of this program since before it even officially launched. Moreover, I have publicly criticized the program on several occasions, with one of the earliest taking place here:

Given my vocal criticism, I wasn’t surprised (though I continue to be appalled at how poorly Periscope communicates with its users) that Periscope denied my admission into their VIP Program, despite meeting all of their outlined criteria. Similar to my recent dealings with Periscope, they would not provide me with a specific explanation, and once again chalked it up to me being in violation of their Community Guidelines. Fact is, Periscope didn’t appreciate my vocal criticism and wanted to send me a message. I was never in violation of any of their Community Guidelines.

After discovering the half exposed breast stream (while browsing what was live on Periscope), I decided to have some fun and did what I felt was a humorous broadcast, poking fun at Periscope’s VIP Program. That broadcast may be found here.

Again, since it was never communicated to me, I can only assume that this was the broadcast that resulted in my account being disabled. There was no nudity shown during the broadcast. After all, I was simply sharing a screenshot from an account that Periscope had admitted into their VIP Program. I suspect Periscope will remove this broadcast (it is still currently viewable within Twitter), as they have removed another broadcast of mine in the past to cover their tracks.

Aside, End

Given my dissatisfaction with Periscope’s response as to why my account was initially disabled, I opted to do a broadcast late Friday night/early Saturday morning to make a point. The point I wanted to make was that Periscope is full of content that violates their Community Guidelines, yet for some reason they have chosen to unjustly disable my account. The reason why, of course, is I have long been a vocal critic of Periscope (while simultaneously loving the app; yes, these are not mutually exclusive). All of my criticism comes from a place of wanting the app to thrive.

That stream, where I hosted a game that I called “Periscope Roulette,” was viewed by nearly 15K live viewers:

The purpose of the stream was to highlight that Periscope is full of content that is (objectively) in violation of their Community Guidelines. I used a second device to stream the perspective of a Periscope user who was navigating within the app and looking for content to watch. We discovered content a number of ways — viewers would suggest a location and we would use the Map View to see what was happening there, we would browse through viewer suggested Periscope-curated channels, we would search for specific keywords, and we would check the Watch Tab of my account, to name a few. Including the viewer participation was essential in my mind, as I wanted to illustrate that I did no prior research to identify these scopes. Basically I wanted to showcase the user experience of someone trying to discover content to watch on Periscope. If it appeared that there was nudity/that there may be nudity on the horizon, I would quickly shift my camera to my table rather than what was being displayed on my second device.

On a few occasions, this experiment landed us in streams where (what appeared to be) minors were being asked to remove their clothing by those viewing the streams. In each instance, I would report the stream (via Periscope’s in-app reporting tool) and advise those streaming to stay clothed. Additionally, I would encourage those viewing my stream to enter said stream, where they would similarly report and urge the broadcasters to stay clothed. There was one group of girls, in fact, that even thanked us for urging them to stay dressed.

Although this was the first time I had personally encountered (what appeared to be) minors in streams full of predators/paedophiles looking to exploit them, there have been several Periscope users who had previously encountered this and shared their experiences with me. It is a very real issue and one that cannot be swept under a rug. Periscope is full of many cam-girl types (which I have no issues with); however, this becomes problematic if others (particularly minors) seek to emulate the content that is so readily accessible to them on Periscope (and, in many cases, given increased visibility as part of Periscope’s VIP Program).

I would urge Periscope to be more transparent around how their reporting process works, in addition to improving/optimizing this flow overall. After many people had reported, these streams seemed to continue for far longer than I would have expected before they were finally removed.

I noticed that my Periscope Roulette stream was removed by Periscope Saturday morning. A few hours later, my Periscope account was disabled once more. I immediately emailed Periscope once again to ask why my account had been disabled. Here is the response I received from them yesterday:

Coincidentally, The Daily Telegraph published this piece, titled “Twitter has become a faux porn social media platform, leaving experts concerned for children,” a few days ago. It calls attention to Periscope’s potential role in functioning as a conduit for child sexual exploitation:

People are finally speaking out, and, frankly this is a good thing.

Again, I can only speculate as to why Periscope has “permanently disabled” my account, but this whole thing reeks of censorship and Periscope wanting to hide their app’s very dirty underbelly.

Periscope, please get your act together; additionally, please restore my account, which has been unjustly suspended.

CEO & Founder, Social Forensics | Previously: Co-Founder, Elementus | Featured in BBC, CNN, BuzzFeed, and Quartz, among others |