Murder of Cleveland elder leads to soul searching at Facebook, and a review of video policy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 10:44pm

Facebook Inc launched a review on Monday of how it handles violent videos and other objectionable material, saying it needed to do better after a video of a killing in Cleveland on Sunday remained on its website and mobile app for two hours.

The world’s largest social network will be looking for ways to make it easier for people to report such videos and to speed up the process of reviewing items once they are reported, Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice-president for global operations and media partnerships, said in a statement.

US authorities have widened a manhunt for the murder suspect who, according to police, posted a video of himself on the social media site shooting dead an elderly man on a street in Cleveland.

Watch: Reward of up to US$50,000 for Facebook murder suspect

Hunt for US killer who murdered elder, live on Facebook

Police said they have received “dozens and dozens” of tips for possible sightings of the suspect, Steve Stephens, and tried to persuade him to surrender when they spoke with him via his cellphone on Sunday after the shooting. But Stephens remained at large as the search for him expanded nationwide, police said.

The shooting was the latest violent incident shown on Facebook, raising questions about how the company moderates huge amounts of content uploaded from around the world.

Facebook relies largely on its 1.9 billion users to report items that violate its terms of service. Millions of items are reported each week in more than 40 languages and thousands of workers review them, Osofsky said in the statement, posted on a company blog.

“We prioritise reports with serious safety implications for our community, and are working on making that review process go even faster,” Osofsky said.

The company, which recently began to allow advertising breaks in live video streams, has also tried to automate the process for flagging offensive material.

Menlo Park, California-based Facebook released a timeline of events related to Stephens, something it had not done after other violent incidents.

Stephens posted three videos, Facebook said. In the first, uploaded at 2.09pm EDT on Sunday he said he intended to commit a murder. No one reported it, according to Facebook.

Two minutes later at 2.11pm, Stephens uploaded a video of the shooting. And a third video, with a confession to murder, was broadcast live at 2.22pm and reported by someone shortly after it ended at 2.27pm.

The shooting video itself was not reported by Facebook users until 3.59pm and Stephens’ account was disabled at 4.22pm, Facebook’s timeline showed.

“We disabled the suspect’s 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,” Osofsky said.

Police said Stephens videoed himself killing Robert Godwin Sr, 74, who is seen standing on a sidewalk carrying a plastic shopping bag as the suspect gets out of his car and approaches him.

“Hi, can you do me a favour? Can you say, ‘Joy Lane?’” the suspect asks Godwin, referring to a woman authorities have identified as Stephen’s former girlfriend.

The elderly man, looking bewildered, asks, “Joy Lane?” and the suspect is heard replying, “Yeah. She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.” He then asks Godwin his age before gunning him down.

Godwin, a retired foundry worker, was the father of nine children and grandfather of 14, his son, Robert Godwin Jr, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.