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Cleveland Murder Opens
Facebook Live Debate
The Cleveland murder on Sunday of an elderly black man captured in real-time on Facebook Live has opened a very important debate regarding the role of social media in the 21st Century: is Facebook Live truly necessary?
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Over the Easter weekend, I happened to be in Cleveland for a business trip. While downtown during the late afternoon hours, my group was informed of a murder only minutes from where we were that had just been posted to Facebook Live. Our building, as well as most businesses and hotels in the area, were put on immediate lockdown since the shooter was now at large and could show up anywhere in the city to commit more murders. All main and side entries were immediately closed. No one could enter or exit any building. Security was on high alert.
As we hunkered down inside the belly of Cleveland, details of the horrific shooting began to scroll across our mobile devices. Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old resident of Cleveland, was angry that his girlfriend refused to talk to him. So, he decided to murder a random person and post the video on Facebook Live in order to force her into doing what he wanted.
As I read about the senseless killing, a message from a friend popped up on my phone with a link to see the video of the murder before Facebook could take it down. As a journalist who recognized I was in the midst of breaking news, I clicked the link and watched until the end. As a human being with a heart and a soul, I instantly regretted that decision.
In the video, I saw Stephens driving around Cleveland barking about how he needed to get revenge against his girlfriend for refusing to speak to him. So, he said he intended to commit a random murder. Only seconds later, Stephens noticed an elderly man walking down the street by himself and picked him as his target.
Stephens stepped out of his car and approached the frail looking 74-year-old Robert Godwin, Sr., who was on his way home from enjoying Easter dinner with his children. Stephens asked Mr. Godwin to say his girlfriend’s name, “Joy Lane,” into the camera and he complied. That’s when Stephen’s pulled out a gun and killed Mr. Godwin with a single bullet. We all watched as the elder fell to the ground and passed away in a pool of his own blood.
I am not ashamed to admit I cried real tears that day.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: If someone offers for you to see the video, do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch it!)
“See what you did?” Stephens said into the camera as if talking to his girlfriend. “This Motha-F*cka just got shot cuz of you,” he continued. Stephens then jumped back into his car and sped away. Police have no idea where he might be hiding, although they believe he is still in the Cleveland area (where I also still happen to be). With Stephens remaining at large, authorities have initiated a nationwide manhunt and have offered a $50,000 reward for his capture.
If you see Steve Stephens dial 9-1-1. If you have tips about the crime or his whereabouts please call the FBI tipline 1-800-Call FBI
— Cleveland Police (@CLEpolice) April 17, 2017
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Interestingly, I took a drive through Cleveland on Monday and, while looking for a Post-Office, I pulled over to ask directions from 2 women I saw standing on the sidewalk chatting. As I rolled down my car window, one of the women started to scream. She later told me she thought maybe I might have been the killer looking to end another life. After all, Stephens was last seen driving a white Ford Fusion — and the rental car I was driving was a gray Ford Fusion. Her reaction reminded me that I was in a city on edge, with frazzled nerves and a killer on the loose. He could be anywhere. To them, he could have even been me. I needed to be more mindful and more careful.
“He is a good guy. … He’d give you the shirt off his back, and I’m not just saying that for these cameras. This man right here was a good man. I hate he’s gone … I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
– Robert Godwin, Jr. on the death of his father
The senseless murder of Mr. Godwin for all the world to see via social media is not the only horrific crime posted to Facebook Live. In fact, a Chicago man captured his own murder on Facebook Live at the hands of a local gang.
At the start of a June 15, 2016, livestream, Antonio Perkins was seen standing in front of his house. Less than 6 minutes later, a blast of gunfire erupted in broad daylight and the 28-year-old collapsed. The video screen went dark, but blood-curdling cries for help filled the remainder of the 14-minute video until authorities arrived at the scene and shut the camera down.
In another Facebook Live post, 6 males filmed themselves sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl for all the world to see. Like many criminals, they wanted the attention and the instant fame.
As with most social media sites, Facebook frequently evaluates disturbing content posted to its platform within 24 hours of a user flagging it. However, since the Live feature plays out in real-time, violent videos are difficult to find and take down before they go viral. That’s why the murder of Mr. Godwin was seen by hundreds from around the world before Facebook was able to pull the video.
So, what is the point of Facebook Live? If it were only a platform to post cute videos of baby’s 1st birthday party or to broadcast a live marriage proposal to the world, it might make sense. Instead, Facebook Live is quickly becoming a gruesome crime scene utilized by criminals looking for their 15 minutes of fame.
Is it time to get a grasp on social media offerings such as Facebook Live?
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