APRIL 19, 2017 – Steve Stephens, the alleged Facebook killer, had been on the run since Easter Sunday after he randomly shot and killed 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. Stephens did it out of anger after his girlfriend broke up with him.
ABCNews.com reports that a quick thinking McDonald’s worker recognized him when he came through her Erie, PA drive-thru. After a police chase, Stephens took his own life.
While this particular story has come to an end, the tragedy raises questions about the role and responsibility of social media in today’s world.
Social Media’s Intended Role
At a very basic level, social media is about moving our real world connections and activities online. In a post from April 18, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “We’re all about extending the physical world online. When you become friends with someone or become part of a community on Facebook, your real relationships and physical communities become stronger.”
If the goal is to move the real world online, can the darker side of our society be excluded from that? One would hope through personal responsibility.
But unfortunately, social media is showing us two things about ourselves: 1) When we are not face-to-face with others and only have an internet connection between us, there is no emotional connection and some people become emboldened and will behave differently; 2) The need by people to be appreciated or feel important and needed is basic and it can be satisfied to a degree by social media activity. This includes both positive and negative behaviors.
Speaking at the F8 Developer Conference, Zuckerberg commented about the Cleveland shooting. “We have a lot more to do here. We’re reminded of this this week by the tragedy in Cleveland. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Robert Godwin Sr. We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.”
That could prove difficult to do, though. The social giant relies on users to report posts with questionable content. That system takes time as was seen with the with the Facebook Killer case.
The video of the shooting remained on Stephens’ profile for over 2 hours before a human editor was alerted to it. In that time, over 1,000 people viewed it before his account was shut down.
Avoiding Another Facebook Killer
Steve Stephen’s act raises the question of whether or not social media glorifies acts of violence? I don’t believe these networks set out to do that intentionally.
But the mere fact that such an act can be broadcast live on a social media network such as Facebook without any form of filter does raise immediate awareness for the act. It also allows those darker elements in our society to watch and share something that should never have happened and that should never be seen.
I come from a broadcasting background where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controlled the airwaves for the good of all citizens. Because of that, privately held radio and TV stations applied to the FCC for broadcast licenses, proving they could be responsible. Maybe Facebook should consider following this example.
Facebook users could apply to use the Live video feature. Human decision-makers would then inspect profiles and deny applications to those users who have posted questionable content in the past. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a start.
While Facebook’s ability to connect people is a wonderful, positive aspect of the site, the actions of Steve Stephens are the worst possible negative.
There are elements in our society that are troubled and irresponsible. If Zuckerberg’s goal is to extend, “the physical world online,” then he and Facebook need to be prepared for everything that represents.
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Bob Turner is a Digital Marketing Consultant with Social Flair Marketing.