Facebook has issued a statement after a video showing a fatal shooting was uploaded onto the social media network by the alleged murderer. Cleveland Police say that Steve Stephens broadcast the killing of an unidentified elderly man on Facebook on Sunday evening and is the target of a manhunt as of this writing. [Update: The victim has been identified as 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. Facebook issued a second statement clarifying that the shooting was uploaded by Stephens after the murder, not broadcast on Facebook Live.]
Stephens also posted two more videos in which he claimed to have to committed other murders and said he was going to “kill as many people as I can,” before his account was shut down by Facebook.
In a statement to journalists, a company spokesperson said “This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook. We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.”
Though Facebook’s policy prohibits content that glorifies or incites violence, that rule is inherently difficult to enforce on a social media platform that encourages its users to post photos and videos in real time or soon after they are taken.
Facebook Live launched to all users almost exactly one year ago and while the majority of videos are innocuous, the feature has broadcast, both accidentally and on purpose, heinous acts of violence. These include the shooting of a toddler, the torture of a teenager with special needs and sexual assaults in Chicago and Sweden.
The Chicago case prompted questions about whether people who watch crimes live but don’t report them can be legally charged and what jurisdictions are responsible. Furthermore, once media has been put on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s easy for other users to save and re-share. This means victims and families are forced to re-experience the trauma and is an especially insidious problem in cases where live streaming was arguably used by perpetrators as a psychological weapon.