Authorities are still on the hunt for 37-year-old Steve Stephens, the suspect in the Sunday murder in Cleveland, Ohio that was recorded on video and posted to Facebook. The video depicted Stephens seemingly randomly choosing his victim, "an old dude" he spotted on a sidewalk who turned out to be 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., making him say the name of an ex-girlfriend, and then fatally shooting him. Facebook ultimately removed the video and disabled Stephens's account, however the video remained live on the site for three hours, and now CBS News is reporting that that Facebook is drawing criticism for that slow response time in this case.
Wired editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson appeared on “CBS This Morning” today and said "I think it’s entirely possible that this incident could change the game" when it comes to Facebook's handling of video, whether it be Facebook Live or just the routinely uploaded videos of its users, like Stephens.
Facebook issued a statement saying "This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook... and [we] are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety." But it will likely concern investigators just how long it took for Facebook to respond in this case.
The complication comes in how Facebook has embraced live video on the platform, and how they see it as a tool of empowerment for people to be able to provide witness footage in cases of violent crime, or police violence. In one highly publicized instance last year, the girlfriend of Philando Castile streamed 10 minutes of video from inside a car when it was pulled over by Minnesota police and Castile was subsequently shot.
As Facebook Live was rolling out last summer, and just one day after Castile's shooting, the company issued this statement about how they planned to enforce their community standards regarding live video:
One of the most sensitive situations involves people sharing violent or graphic images of events taking place in the real world. In those situations, context and degree are everything. For instance, if a person witnessed a shooting, and used Facebook Live to raise awareness or find the shooter, we would allow it. However, if someone shared the same video to mock the victim or celebrate the shooting, we would remove the video.
One can see, however, how the reach of the platform and the power of live video could encourage more people to seek attention for their crimes in this way.
As Wired points out today, Mark Zuckerberg has said he wanted the platform to help people communicate in the "most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways," but that "some of that communication may be rawer and more visceral than the company had anticipated," especially when it comes to Facebook Live including unedited views of "police shootings, rape, torture, and enough suicides that Facebook will be integrating real-time suicide prevention tools into the platform."
Stephens was heard in the video saying "I’m about to keep killing until they catch me," and he had bragged in other posts about killing up to 13 or 14 people, although authorities say that is not likely true. His cell phone last pinged somewhere in Pennsylvania and a manhunt is underway.
Update: Facebook put out a statement Monday explaining the timeline of Stephens's uploads, and the third, confessional live video he posted. They say they are working on "improving our reporting flows" and "working on improving our review processes" as well as exploring the role artificial intelligence can play in keeping certain content from being shared in its entirety.
In this case, we did not receive a report about the first video, and we only received a report about the second video containing the shooting more than an hour and 45 minutes after it was posted. We received reports about the third video, containing the man’s live confession, only after it had ended.
We disabled the suspect’s account within 23 minutes of receiving the first report about the murder video, and two hours after receiving a report of any kind. But we know we need to do better.