The Editorial Board
This past weekend, the ethics of live streaming were called into question through ways that even “Black Mirror” failed to make us confront.
On Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio, 37-year-old Steve Stephens fatally shot 74-year-old Robert Godwin, Sr. and live streamed his crime on Facebook. In another upload, Stephens claimed he had killed 15 other people, quickly giving him the name of “the Cleveland killer” in the press. The videos were circulated over a thousand times before his account was finally disabled.
According to The New York Times, Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin D. Williams confirmed that “investigators knew of no other killings.” A three-day manhunt was issued to find the fugitive, climaxing near a McDonald’s in Erie, Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Stephens was spotted buying McNuggets and fries, and sped off as employees called the police. Cops eventually tailed him, and they found his body shortly after his suicide.
An abundance of online outrage has swept the internet during this week, all criticizing Facebook for allowing the videos to be published for so long. According to data from Facebook’s official statement, two graphic videos were already uploaded prior to Stephens’ live confession before noon on Sunday. The confession was not reported until the stream ended, and the first video was reported almost two hours after it was published. In total, it took almost three hours for Stephens’ account to be disabled.
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) April 18, 2017
In this case, Facebook employees are not the only people to blame for the circulation of the videos. It wasn’t long until the video of Godwin’s murder made it to Twitter, where the victim’s grandson urged all retweets of the killing to be silenced. He published the incendiary tweet over an hour after Facebook terminated the perpetrator’s original uploads.
Please please please stop retweeting that video and report anyone who has posted it! That is my grandfather show some respect #Cleveland
— Ryan A. Godwin (@god_winr) April 16, 2017
More companies have recently been subjected to similar ire, as The Guardian reported last month that the Cabinet Office of the British government had to intervene in Google’s revenue system. The issue stemmed from the company, along with its subsidiary YouTube, advertising next to “inappropriate content.”
This included videos of white supremacy and hate speeches, juxtaposed against ads from companies such as Channel 4, Argos, L’Oreal and BBC. “We’re committed to doing better, and will make changes to our policies and brand controls for advertisers,” a Google spokeswoman stated, according to The Sun.
In regards to other homicides, Godwin is far from the first person to have his memory disrespected by internet hype. Last summer, Diamond Reynolds filmed the killing of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, in St. Paul, Minnesota. A month before that, Antonio Perkins was killed in Chicago while Facebook live streaming a party he attended with some friends. Last March, the Tennessee murder of Rodney Hess was also live broadcasted on Facebook. All videos are still available on the internet.
Although Facebook, Google and other sites need to tighten their reporting policies – to ensure that the promotion of heinous videos is impeded – the benefits of streaming still deserve recognition. Experts have noted that streaming helps businesses strengthen connections to their customers, as it “[shows] a more spontaneous and down-to-earth side.”
According to a BBC report from last year, Nissan has successfully run over 26 live streams on Facebook, while Benefit Cosmetics has garnered to up to 60,000 viewers from live promotions. “Roughly [77 percent] of Americans” own smartphones, according to Jan. 2017 data from the Pew Research Center. About 69 percent of American adults use social media, while 89 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds are the market’s largest consumer base. These numbers alone add weight to the need for marketing online.
Justin Osofsky, the vice president of Global Operations at Facebook, wrote on Monday that “keeping [its] global community safe is an important part of [the company’s] mission.” He affirmed that every week, “thousands of people around the world review the millions of items that are reported” in over 40 languages. The items most likely include videos, statuses and other forms of posts.
Based on the worldwide amount of internet and smartphone usage, it is impossible for streaming media to be ceased in lieu of criminal actions. Instead of solely firing back against these sites, we should redirect our critiques toward the users who spread graphic videos around.
In the debate of streaming ethics, we are just as immoral as the world’s murderous perpetrators if we fail to report these videos as soon as we find them on our timelines. Not doing so makes public embarrassment for companies much more painful and further desensitizes a generation raised on the looming threat of terrorist activities.
Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins