Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The tragic killing of 74-year-old Robert Godwin prompted debate about censorship in social media, particularly Facebook’s livestream video feature. What started as a tool for whimsical entertainment — like Buzzfeed broadcasting a watermelon explosion or Candace Payne laughing in a Chewbacca mask — transformed into something much more sinister.
In June 2016, an Islamic terrorist confessed to killing a police officer and his partner on Facebook Live. In October of 2016, a man filmed two people sprawled out on the grass in Tennessee, nearly overdosed on heroin. The person filming made fun of the heroin addicts and took no action to help them. A particularly disturbing instance occurred in January, in which a man with special needs was tied up and beaten while his torturers spewed racial slurs and captured the entire debacle on video. One of the women in the group actually came in front of the camera because she wanted her followers to see her face and comment. Unfortunately, the list of depravities captured on Facebook Live does not end there. Godwin’s death marks yet another grim moment made public.
But how much of this is really Facebook’s fault? The argument could be made that instant access to the public can encourage some to commit these acts for attention. However, we must not forget that heinous crimes are not exclusive to the modern age of social media. Long before we could broadcast every thought and emotion, there were still murderers, rapists and abusers in society.
Additionally, attention-seeking criminals had found ways to gain fame before Facebook Live existed. Take the Zodiac Killer for instance: In the late 1960s, police conducted a long and hard search for a brutal serial killer who taunted them with coded messages said to reveal his motive and identity. Even without Facebook Live, the Zodiac Killer got the attention he craved, albeit anonymously.
Social media cannot be solely responsible for driving someone to commit crimes. It simply does a good job of making the rest of the world aware when atrocities happen. We need to focus on helping the depraved people who commit these crimes instead of criticizing the technology delivering the message. We also need to concentrate on why viewers let these horrible videos go viral. According to a statement Facebook released, “A reviewer can interrupt a live stream if there is a violation [of Community Standards].” So, if any viewer can report a video, why do broadcasts such as the heroin overdose and the special needs man being tormented stay posted for sometimes up to 30 minutes? If a video with disturbing content gains popularity, then those who watch and without reporting it shoulder blame as well.
Facebook should definitely monitor what is posted through live video. However, the reality is that livestreaming via Facebook and similar outlets is here to stay. Facebook has put out statements saying they have an “on-call team staffed” to react to reports immediately. Besides being vigilant of the content that is posted on Facebook Live, there is not much the company itself can do. However, what we can do as a cyber community is hold individuals responsible for what they post and take any action possible to stop or report a crime we see. The harsh reality is that even if social media platforms like Facebook Live didn’t exist, these crimes would still happen, but perhaps fewer people would be aware of them.
Asha Kodan is a freshman biology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.