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The evolution of Facebook Live
01:52 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Facebook Live has only been widely available for less than a year

Teens recently used the platform to broadcast the torture of a man in Chicago

CNN  — 

In April 2016, when Facebook Live was presented to the masses, there was an immediacy – and an ironic intimacy – to the platform. On one side of the screen, you could reveal the smallest details of your life as they unfolded, while on the other side, millions could watch.

Armed with this technology, we immediately lurched towards the absurd. Buzzfeed exploded a watermelon, and 800,000 people tuned in. In May, millions of people watched a woman in a Chewbacca mask laughing uncontrollably in a Kohl’s parking lot.

But in the months following Facebook Live’s debut, the pendulum swung sharply from silly viral stuff to serious subjects like police shootings and terrorism. Some live broadcasts became tools of activists and criminals, of the very best and worst of us.

Now, in the first week of 2017, a video showing a group of teens torturing a young man became the platform’s latest broadcast of horror.

It only took a few months for Facebook Live, which offers a vast audience of 1.8 billion monthly active users, to go from exploding watermelons to torture videos. How did we get here?

These were some pivotal and shocking moments that have helped define the fledgling platform.

April 2016: An exploding watermelon

Facebook Live actually launched in limited form in August 2015 as a way for the site’s biggest users (celebrities and other influencers) to connect directly with their audience. When it was released to a wider base, people didn’t know what to do with it at first. One of Facebook Live’s first big wins was Buzzfeed’s 45-minute broadcast of two people stretching dozens of rubber bands around a watermelon until it burst.

May 2016: A baby’s birth

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Whoops! Husband live-streams son's birth
01:45 - Source: KCRA

With any new technology, there are some growing pains. And sometimes, there are labor pains. A California man accidentially live-streamed his son’s birth, allegedly thinking he was just recording it to show later. The surprise hit perfectly tested the boundaries of Facebook Live: How intimate could we be, and how viral could we go? The answer to both questions was quickly established: Very.

May 2016: A Chewbacca lady

Could someone become famous on Facebook Live? No one has gotten closer than Candace Payne, a Texas mom who rocketed to viral fame after posting a simple video of her laughing uproariously in a Chewbacca mask. The video earned wide acclaim and led to an appearance on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” As of 2017 her video has more than 165 million views.

READ MORE: The Chewbacca mask and the power of viral joy

June 2016: A tool of terror

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Police commander killed in France terror attack
02:27 - Source: CNN

After killing a police commander and the commander’s partner in Magnanville, France, a 25-year-old Islamic extremist took to Facebook Live at the scene. He confessed to the terrorist act and threatened more violence. It was a reminder that such an immediate form of communication carries inherent dangers. As the killer praised ISIS on camera, the slain couple’s 3-year-old boy, still alive, could be seen behind him.

July 2016: A police shooting