In the age of livestreaming, you never know what you might see. Such was the case yesterday, on Easter Sunday, when 37-year-old Steve Stephens snapped, took an innocent man’s life and caused panic in Ohio.
Stephens, who claimed to be mad at his girlfriend, was driving around until he spotted a random stranger walking on the sidewalk. He said it was her fault that he was about to murder him. Stephens stopped his car, approached an elderly man, asked him to repeat the name of the woman and said she was the reason this was happening. Then he shot and killed the man.
74-year-old Robert Godwin was the man killed; he was walking home after having Easter dinner with his children.
Stephens was posting to Facebook Live, but the actual murder was a video uploaded from his phone instead of being broadcast live. Many places incorrectly reported that the murder was livestreamed, but the Cleveland Police did say the murder was broadcast on Facebook Live. Facebook, however, claimed that although Stephens had been livestreaming some, the actual murder was a recorded video that had been uploaded. That calls attention to Facebook’s content vetting process.
A Facebook 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.”
Facebook took down the video. You can still find the video posted in various place online, although I don’t know why you would want to; this isn’t fiction or a movie; it’s real life and it shows a seriously mentally unbalanced man taking another man’s life. I wish I hadn’t seen it. Stephens also claimed to have murdered many people, saying he wanted to “kill as many people as I can.”
While Stephens claimed that he had killed 13 people, Cleveland Police said, “At this time, there are still no known additional victims.” The cops warned, “Misinformation in emergencies is dangerous. All press releases posted.”
During the manhunt in Ohio, the police pinged Stephen’s phone and determined he was near Erie, Pennsylvania. Cleveland Police urged, “Residents of states of Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Michigan asked to be on alert.”
Thousands of people had watched the murder, and it was scraped and reposted elsewhere, before it had been flagged enough times for Facebook to take it down. Wired suggested that Facebook should stop depending on people to watch horror and then report it.
It’s not the first time that deaths have been livestreamed on Facebook as they happen. A number of suicides broadcasted live prompted the company to come out with suicide prevention tools, but sometimes the livestream of a death is neither suicide, nor a planned crime being committed.
Wingsuit BASE jumper Armin Schmieder accidentally live-streamed his own death in August 2016. He had stuffed his phone inside his wingsuit before he jumped, so viewers didn’t see his death. But they did hear the sound of impact, his moaning and cow bells from the cows in the pasture near Kandersteg, Switzerland where he crashed. As you can likely imagine, people watching the livestream were freaking out in the comments. Facebook finally removed the video 36 hours later.
Earlier that month, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was livestreaming during a standoff with Baltimore police. The cops were trying to serve an arrest warrant after she failed to appear in court over a traffic violation. The standoff lasted for hours, during which her followers were allegedly encouraging her not to comply. She told the SWAT team that she would shoot if they didn’t leave. Baltimore police filed an emergency request with Facebook, resulting in Facebook deactivating her account. Shortly thereafter, Gaines was shot and killed by police.
Earlier last year, Diamond Reynolds broadcast live on Facebook after a Minnesota cop shot her boyfriend, Philando Castile, during a traffic stop. The tragic incident sparked outrage. Facebook removed the video and then later attached a graphic warning and restored it.
Sometimes, videos broadcast on Facebook end up being the only proof a victim has about police or other abuse. If a video is censored by Facebook, the social media network could be accused of violating free speech. As it stands right now, you never know what you might see and be unable to un-see when you watch a livestream on Facebook.