Robert Godwin was collecting aluminum cans in Cleveland on Sunday when he was approached by Steve Stephens. Stephens asked Godwin some questions, but it took less than a minute for him to get to his point.
“Can you do me a favor,” Stephens asked on video. “Can you say, ‘Joy Lane’?”
Godwin was confused, but obliged. Then, Stephens pulled out a hand gun.
“She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.” He had chosen to execute Godwin at random.
Stephens had done this in an apparent attempt to get back at “Joy Lane” in a public fashion. And it was very public. Thousands of people saw the video, Stephens’ name was trending on Twitter and he was listed as one of the FBI’s most-wanted before eventually taking his own life in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.
The video was recorded and duplicated, as one might imagine, during the three hours prior to Facebook taking it down. Godwin’s family largely found out about the murder via social media, according to The Washington Post.
Facebook said it forbids graphic content on its site, but with 1.86 billion monthly active users, it has been faced with a lot of challenges regarding how to regulate its content. The site tries to curtail the spread of fake news, and struggles to reign in child pornography rings and graphic content.
But Facebook is just one of many platforms that have played host to live-streamed — or otherwise — rape, hate crime and suicide. This raises the question, what responsibility do these sites have in regulating content, whether it be fake news or heinous acts?
Vincent Hendricks, the director of the center for information and bubble studies at the University of Copenhagen, told The Washington Post that, online, we’re fighting for other people’s attention.
“Attention is a natural currency for human beings,” said Hendricks. “We like attention; we like to be recognized.” He then added, “One thing we know that grabs people’s attention is anger or fear.”
James Oglof, the director at the center for forensic behavioral science at Swineburne University in Australia, told The Washington Post that people who engage in this behavior are “characterized by feeling disempowered.”
“Just thinking of what you can do to someone you’re angry with is pretty empowering.” Now, Oglof says social media offers the added element of a captive audience.
Whether the ability to broadcast a crime influences a person’s decision to carry it out is yet to be seen. But we believe, with tools that allow anyone to livestream or easily post video, that these crimes are inevitable.
We do see some possible solutions to the matter, though they may not be pragmatic. One possible solution would be to streamline the review process after a video or livestream has been flagged for graphic content. This would mean lowering the threshold of flags before content is reviewed. While we think this could help limit the amount of graphic content that gets through, it is inevitable that Facebook will not be able to catch everything.
Another option could be to require some sort of background check before an account or profile is able to live stream. While this would box out potential wrong-doers, we think it would create a barrier for the little guy trying to establish themselves, as we imagine a background-checking process would cost money.
The only solution is to get rid of livestreaming on Facebook all together. But a few rotten apples should not spoil the bunch. The responsibility is ultimately on us as a society and individuals not to post the content, or to police content ourselves. All too often in these cases, people sit and watch these events transpire, and do nothing to stop it. These people should instead be the ones immediately notifying the police, then Facebook.
Its unrealistic and irresponsible for us to expect corporations to play parent, regulating what we can and cannot see. The rest of us should be able to have nice things, even if a small portion of us cannot handle it.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and are not representative of The Slate or its staff as a whole.