US man who posted 'murder' video on Facebook kills himself

The man suspected of killing a Cleveland man and posting a video of the murder on Facebook fatally shot himself after a "brief pursuit" by Pennsylvania State Police officers on Tuesday, police said.VIDEO: REUTERS
Crews remove the car of a fugitive, who police said posted a video of himself on Facebook killing an elderly man in Cleveland, after he shot and killed himself following a brief police pursuit in Erie, Pennsylvania, US, on April 18, 2017.
Crews remove the car of a fugitive, who police said posted a video of himself on Facebook killing an elderly man in Cleveland, after he shot and killed himself following a brief police pursuit in Erie, Pennsylvania, US, on April 18, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Alleged murderer was being pursued by Pennsylvania police when he shot himself

NEW YORK • A man who posted a video of himself on Facebook killing an elderly man shot and killed himself after a "brief pursuit" by Pennsylvania state police officers yesterday.

Mr Steve Stephens was accused of shooting Mr Robert Godwin on a Cleveland sidewalk on Sunday before fleeing in a car and uploading a video of the murder to Facebook, becoming the subject of a nationwide manhunt.

"Steve Stephens was spotted this morning by PSP (Pennsylvania State Police) members in Erie County. After a brief pursuit, Stephens shot and killed himself," police said in a tweet yesterday.

Mr Stephen's chilling video triggered a backlash against Facebook, even the social media giant is grappling with its role in policing content on its global platform.

It is an issue that the world's largest social network has had to contend with more frequently as it has bet big on new forms of media like live video, which give it a venue for more lucrative advertising.

The video shows Mr Stephens, 37, driving around Cleveland over Easter weekend, posting on Facebook his "a mission to murder", during which he shot dead the 74-year-old Mr Godwin, apparently at random.

On its part, Facebook, even as it has become a forum for more sensational events, live and otherwise, it has said it does not want to be a media company that overly arbitrates what is posted on its site.

But the more reluctant it is to intervene or the slower it is to respond, the more it may be open to posting of killings, sexual assaults and other crimes.

The criticism of Facebook over Mr Stephens' video has built swiftly, with outrage spreading on social media over how long it had taken - more than two hours - for the video to be pulled down.

"Any of these platforms - especially live ones - encourages users to perform," said law professor Elizabeth Joh at the University of California, Davis.

"Should Facebook have a duty to rescue a crime victim? Should we, or is it OK for thousands or millions of people to watch a crime unfold without doing anything except sharing it?"

Mr Justin Osofsky, a vice-president of Facebook, on Monday said the company knows "we need to do better", and that it was working to ensure such content and reports of it can be flagged faster, including through the use of artificial intelligence and a better review process.

Facebook's dilemma is part of a debate that has pulled in other technology giants including Twitter, Amazon and Google.

As these companies have rushed to provide tools for people to widely share their intimate moments more frequently, they are also dealing with a rising tide of calls to more proactively filter the type of content that appears.

In recent weeks, Google's YouTube has been scrutinised for posting advertising next to racist video content, while Twitter contends with hate speech almost daily.

But the attention is often focused on Facebook because of its nearly two billion users and global reach. The company has spent the past two years emphasising its push into photos and video, underpinned by a thesis that cameras have become more important in how people share moments of their lives.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'US man who posted 'murder' video on Facebook kills himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe