When did Facebook Live become the destination for people to end their lives – or someone else’s?
In these past few weeks, a disturbing, violent murders and suicides have been taking place on the social media’s live-video feature. The most horrendous of these was the murder of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr.’s death at the hands of Cleveland resident Steve Stephens, 37, officially dubbed the “Facebook Killer” by the press for documenting the murder on Facebook Live, as well as live-streaming his plans to murder more people. (After a three-day manhunt, Stephens killed himself in Erie, Pa.)
This shocking act of on-camera violence hasn’t stopped people from taking their own lives online. A couple of weeks ago, James Jeffrey, 49, from Robertsdale, Ala., apparently distraught after breaking up with his girlfriend, killed himself online. In New York, a 21-year-old robbery suspect Jamel Chandler broadcast his final moments.
Facebook is well aware of the gruesomeness that’s being captured on Live. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently addressed the Godwin shooting during F8, Facebook’s annual developers conference. (“We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” he said.) Facebook also unveiled new tools two months ago for people who might be suicidal. For example, if you have a friend who is exhibiting suicidal tendencies on Live, you can report the video on Facebook, which will provide a set of resources (reaching out to a friend, contacting a helpline, etc.) to the person while they’re streaming.
Then last week, the company announced it would hire 3,000 more people to review videos and other posts.
The decision came after getting criticized for not responding quickly enough to murders shown on its service. On April 21, Jesse Jackson and others stood outside Facebook’s Chicago offices in an attempt to ask Facebook to shut down Live for 30 days and figure out how to instantly remove disturbing video from the site.
Facebook did take the offending videos down but not immediately. Local police officers said Jeffrey’s video was viewed more than 1,000 times before Facebook took it down two hours later. And the Washington Post reported that it was more than two hours after his initial posting before Stephens’s profile page was disabled.
It is intriguing how Facebook Live is becoming a prime spot for this activity, but not other live-streaming apps like Periscope, which was released two years ago, way before Facebook began streaming live. Maybe it’s because Periscope has safety features that can get people immediately banned from the platform if users think a person is doing questionable things on it. (If you don’t believe me, ask spoiled rich boy Martin Shkreli, who was temporarily kicked off Periscope and Twitter last January after making unwanted advances towards a Teen Vogue journalist.) Not to mention that if you so much as exhibit criminal activity on Periscope, you will definitely go to jail. On April 20, a 20-year-old man from Vallejo, Cal., was arrested two days after showing off a gun on Periscope and promising to fire it if he got over 100 views.
In my opinion, Facebook continues to be the place where everything that’s good and bad about human civilization eventually ends up. And, unfortunately, that means sick, sad individuals will find their way there and use its features to get worldwide attention.
Three thousand new hires to review posts is a good start. But Facebook still needs to take some time out to work on Facebook Live. Hopefully, they’ll come up with more concrete ways to stop these people in their tracks before they get their 15 minutes of unearned fame.
Craig Lindsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org