Facebook’s marketing campaign for its Facebook Live video-streaming feature focuses on the potential for sharing intimate moments from its users’ lives — weddings, birthdays, etc. But its video platform is also a popular way to share much darker moments as well.
While many families were enjoying an Easter or Passover meal together on Sunday, a man in ** was busy uploading video of himself shooting and killing a ** grandfather of **. After he was done, the killer logged on to the social network to boast about his actions.
The killing of ** is the latest in a series of incidents that have cast a shadow over Facebook’s video offering. Although the murder was not actually live-streamed (contrary to some initial news reports), it still raises significant questions about Facebook’s responsibilities in such cases, since the video remained available for several hours after the shooting.
The social network released a statement to CNN late Sunday saying **. But for many, the damage had already been done. And the fact that the killer spent time after the murder live-chatting about the incident seemed to add insult to injury.
Since Facebook introduced its live-streaming video service in **, there have been several cases where deaths and other violent acts have been broadcast to the network’s billions of users. In some cases, the company has taken swift action to remove the videos, but in others it has chosen to leave them up with a warning about the content being disturbing.
Last year, for example, Antonio Perkins of Chicago was shot and killed in a drive-by attack while he was live-streaming himself drinking with friends on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood. The video was watched hundreds of thousands of times within a matter of hours.
Despite the violence of the attack, and the fact that Perkins died as a result, Facebook told CNN at the time that the clip was left up because it didn’t violate the company’s community standards.
In **, Philando Castile of Minneapolis was shot by police during a routine roadside stop, and his death was filmed and live-streamed by his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds, while her young daughter sat in the back seat. In that case, the footage — which Facebook didn’t remove — helped galvanize protests about police violence against blacks in the U.S.
There have also been several cases that were equally disturbing, even if they didn’t involve death. In January, a 12-year-old girl uploaded a live-stream of her own suicide to Facebook, in a clip that showed her tying a rope around a tree and hanging herself. Facebook was criticized for leaving the video clip up for more than two weeks after the incident.
Also in January, a group of four men and women in Chicago live-streamed an attack on a young developmentally-delayed man who was bound, gagged, and cut with a knife (he later escaped, and the four were eventually arrested by police).
At one point, the video stream had more than 16,000 simultaneous viewers, and several Facebook users interacted with the attackers while they were abusing the boy. According to a number of reports, they posted comments that the attackers then responded to on camera.
Just last month, several teenage boys in Chicago live-streamed the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl using the Facebook feature. According to police, at one point more than 40 people were watching the attack, but no one called 911 or contacted the authorities.
Facebook isn’t the only one that has to deal with this kind of violent content — similar clips also get uploaded to YouTube, including the ones of the 12-year-old’s suicide and the latest shooting. But Facebook has spent so much time and energy promoting its live feature that it has become a lightning rod for criticism in such cases.
And whatever the social network may think of the ethics of live-streaming deaths or leaving clips up for weeks, having newspaper and TV headlines using the term “Facebook murder” or “Facebook killing” probably isn’t something the company wants to deal with. But the genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no putting it back in again.