Robert Godwin Sr. was walking home from an Easter meal with his family when he was shot and killed by a stranger, who then posted a video of the murder onto Facebook. Hours passed by before the graphic video was eventually removed from the platform by Facebook administrators. Despite its removal from its original page, however, the video continues to be shared online.
“We know we need to do better,” said Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations at Facebook, in a post the day following the incident. The social media company faced criticism for its handling of the video. “We disabled the suspects account within 23 minutes of receiving the first report about the murder video.”
In an earlier statement, Facebook called the shooting “a horrific crime.” But this is just the latest in a growing list of disturbing videos of murder, suicide, tortures and be-headings published onto Facebook through live broadcasts or video uploads. The new video reignites old questions about how the social network handles offensive content.
Many questions arise about Facebook’s moderating and reviewing of this type of content globally, about the average response time for removing it and about whether Facebook saves such content for law enforcement after its deletion. Facebook, like some of its peers within the tech industry, has traditionally remained vague on details of censorship within the community of Facebook users, generally pointing to community standards when issues of censorship come into detail.
“We do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.”
Facebook relies on a combination of algorithms, actual employees and its community of users to flag offensive content, according to Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of Family Online Safety Institute, a longtime member of Facebook’s safety advisory board.
“They have reviewers in Asia, they have reviewers in Europe and they have reviewers in North America,” Balkam said. “But at least some of that is likely to come from more affordable contractors in Southeast Asia.”
Earlier in April, a Georgia teenager using Instagram Live accidentally shot and killed himself while handling a gun. Malachi Hemphill, 13, was broadcasting to friends using Instagram Live when he accidentally fired the weapon.
Hemphill was allegedly encouraged by a friend to insert a clip shortly before the gun went off. Shaniqua Stephens, his mother, said that she heard the shot and found Hemphill in a pool of blood.
“As he put the clip in the gun,” she said, “that is when the gun went off. My daughter screamed and said, ‘Mom turn his phone off!’”
“As I proceeded to look at his phone,” continued Stephens, “He was on Instagram Live.”
Although the accidental suicide was not broadcast onto Facebook like the Godwin case, it raised issues of user protection when it comes to video content. Pertaining to Godwin’s video, nearly two hours had passed before users reported it on Facebook, according to the company. Facebook disabled the account behind the video nearly half an hour after it had been reported.
“The work of reviewing is treated as low status in Silicon Valley,” said Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor at UCLA studying online content moderation. “It [is] not the engineering department. It [is] the ugly and necessary output of these platforms.”
In a lengthy manifesto about the future of Facebook published in February, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the recent uploads as, “terribly tragic events that perhaps could have been prevented if someone had realized what was happening and reported them sooner.”
Zuckerberg said Facebook is developing artificial intelligence to better flag content on the site. This system already generates about one-third of all reports to the team that reviews content,” according to Zuckerberg’s post.
Family and friends joined together to pay tribute to Robert Godwin Sr. for a public ceremony held on April 22 in Euclid, Cleveland.
“It’s not always easy to forgive, but we know it’s what we have to do and it’s what my father taught us to do,” said Tonya R. Godwin-Baines, Godwin’s daughter, in an interview with a Cleveland affiliate. ““I am so glad we had that time together. “