Don't expect Mark Zuckerberg to stop live streaming murder any time soon

I really haven’t spent any time covering the ruthless murder committed by Steve Stephens which he posted on Facebook. It was a horrible story, but one which is sadly all too common these days. It was really just the social media aspect of it which seemed to turn yet another senseless killing into a national dialogue. Stephens is dead now, having taken his own life as police closed in on him. The daughter of his victim, Robert Godwin Sr., has stated that she had forgiven him for his crimes and is sorry that he’s dead rather than facing trial and a lengthy jail sentence. (Associated Press)

The daughter of a retiree slain in an apparently random Cleveland shooting that was recorded and shared on Facebook says she’s sad that the suspect killed himself in Pennsylvania.

Debbie Godwin tells The Associated Press she would have preferred that 37-year-old Steve Stephens remain alive and face prison time for the Sunday shooting of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. She says: “If you did it, you have to face your crime.”

That’s a very Christian attitude to take, particularly under such horrendous circumstances, but a less charitable person might see it as a blessing in disguise, since Stephens didn’t put everyone through the additional trauma of reliving the event at trial. But the real question now is what to do about these widely sensationalized violent crimes which wind up being made available on social media or even lives streamed. (It has originally been reported that Stephens live streamed the murder, but he actually recorded it and uploaded the video later.) Since it all took place on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has stepped up and announced that he plans to crack down on such things. (AP)

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday vowed to work to keep the world’s leading social network from being used to propagate grisly acts like the murder of an elderly man on Easter Sunday…

“We are going to work on building common ground, not just getting more opinions out there,” Zuckerberg said.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin, Sr.. We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”

He conceded that Facebook has “a lot of work” to do.

It’s a wonderful sentiment, Mark, but I’m fairly sure that most of us hearing these remarks are wondering precisely what you plan to do about it. Facebook has literally billions of users around the planet and you have handed each and every one of them an incredible set of multimedia tools which allow them to quickly generate and share content on a moment’s notice. While the vast majority of users are thankfully not animals like Stephens, there are unfortunately a fair number of horrible criminals in every pocket of population and some of them seem to be addicted to broadcasting their horrendous deeds on your platform. We’ve seen the gang rape of a child being live streamed from Chicago and another, similarly horrifying crime being broadcast from Sweden. I could continue with that list until we all sank into a deep, dark depression.

So how can Facebook or any other platform stop it? Do you plan to vet all of the new and current users to see if they can pass a criminal background check? Impossible. Should all photo and video content be reviewed by a Facebook employee before it publishes? You’d have to hire roughly a third of the planet to take on that task. (There are roughly 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every day and a similarly staggering number of recorded videos and live streams.) You only find out about the truly awful ones if somebody reports it and the mainstream media picks it up. I’d be willing to bet there are literally tens of thousands of videos of crimes being committed out there on the social network right now, but nobody has generated enough attention to them to get them pulled down.

Shouldn’t we have seen this coming? Kathleen Parker has a piece out this week in which she says that the live streaming of murder was not only possible, but pretty much inevitable. (Washington Post)

For every exhibitionist, there are a million voyeurs. We’re all so riveted to our screens that a moment not captured and telegraphed to our thousands of social media “friends” may as well not have happened.

Would Godwin still be alive if Stephens’s battery had died?

The temptations are great, no doubt, and I’m no high priestess of moral will, though I do hate myself every time I share. And of course I was put on this planet to worry, which I also do publicly. I worry that the underlying imperative in our see-and-be-seen culture — one increasingly without even the expectation of privacy — soon leads to the expectation that one shouldn’t have any privacy.

Some slippery slopes really are slippery.

Here’s a slightly more crude way to say all of that: people are frequently awful. But now everyone lives in their phones and they engage with each other through these platforms. Some post pictures of what they had for breakfast. Others publish videos of the guy they just beat down with a lead pipe. Absent essentially eliminating social media platforms entirely, Zuckerberg can’t stop this because he’s not fighting technology… he’s battling human nature.