SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said Monday it took too long to identify and take down videos of the fatal shooting Sunday of an elderly man and his alleged killer's plan and live confession — a series of disturbing incidents that have again raised questions about the giant social network's ability to address objectionable material on its platform.
The video of Robert Godwin, 74, in Cleveland was posted for nearly two hours before Facebook took it down. The suspect in the killing, Steve Stephens, 37, posted a video first announcing his intent to commit the crime and later talked about his exploits on Facebook Live, according to a timeline supplied by Facebook.
"As a result of this terrible series of events, we are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards as easily and quickly as possible," Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations at Facebook, said in a blog post Monday. "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."
Osofsky said Facebook disabled Stephens' 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."
The incident, which garnered heavy coverage, is likely to intensify pressure on Facebook to more closely monitor content on its platforms, say media experts. "Awful acts have become a stand-in for (filming) experiences, which is a shame because so many positive aspects of it are not reported," says Benjamin Burroughs, emerging media professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "There could be increased talk for regulation or Facebook called upon to do more."
For months, the popular Facebook Live app — normally used by millions to broadcast weddings, concerts and other personal events — has increasingly become a forum for violent acts such as killings, rapes, torture and suicides. That, in turn, has intensified fears that those posting videos — live or recorded — are seeking, and gaining, attention that could lead to copycat offenders trying to "top" previous crimes.
Facebook faces a daunting task in mitigating violent acts on Facebook Live and its other platforms, says Brent Skorup, a research fellow at Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
It could come up with an algorithm to monitor the live transmissions and uploaded videos of its nearly 2 billion members — possibly through key word or images searches — or its thousands of curators might be more vigilant in spotting and ending the transmission of suspicious activity in real-time, Skorup says.
What experts don't expect is sweeping regulation that would put the same levels of decency on Facebook as those that exist on television broadcasters.
"When people are riled up, it is not a good time to make policy," Skorup says, pointing to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It gives online companies broad immunity from being held liable for user-created content.
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