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Facebook on Cleveland murder video: 'We need to do better'

The social network is reviewing its reporting process so it can react faster to disturbing content.

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Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
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Facebook vowed to "do better" after the social network unwittingly played host to a series of disturbing videos that culminated in the shooting and killing of an elderly man.

The social networking titan said on Monday it will review its "reporting flows" so that people can flag video and other content that violates its standards. It's also exploring technologies like artificial intelligence to help prevent these videos from being shared in their entirety.

The suspect, Steve Stephens, 37, on Sunday posted videos of both his intent to murder someone and then the act itself. He later went on Facebook Live to discuss the killing, according to CBS News. Police identified the victim as Robert Godwin Sr., 74.

Pennsylvania State Police said Tuesday that Stephens fatally shot himself following a nationwide manhunt for him.

The grisly videos are just the latest incident in which Facebook has dealt with disturbing content that has been broadcast to its site, available for users to share and comment on. The company envisioned live video as a tool to bring people closer together, but the dark, unexpected consequence has been the raft of suicides, rapes and murders that have appeared on the site.

Facebook's role as an arbiter of this content came into question when two graphic videos played a critical role in the Black Lives Matter movement. Other disturbing videos on the platform include four people in Chicago being charged with hate crimes in January after they apparently beat and tortured a mentally disabled man. Also in Chicago, police are still searching for those involved in the alleged gang rape of a teenage girl last month. Dozens reportedly watched the assault live on Facebook.

On Monday, Facebook said it disabled Stephens' account within 23 minutes of receiving the first report about the murder video, and two hours after receiving a report of any kind.

"But we know we need to do better," Justin Osofsky, vice president of global operations, said in a blog post.

The company said it didn't get a report about the murder video until more than an hour and 45 minutes after its posting, and never received a report about the first video. It only received a report of the third video, a Facebook Live video, after it ended.

Facebook added that it has thousands of people reviewing millions of items every week. "We prioritize reports with serious safety implications for our community, and are working on making that review process go even faster," he said.

Facebook also shared the timeline of events:

11:09 a.m. PT: First video, of intent to murder, uploaded. Not reported to Facebook.
11:11 a.m. PT: Second video, of shooting, uploaded.
11:22 a.m. PT: Suspect confesses to murder while using Live, is live for 5 minutes.
11:27 a.m. PT: Live ends, and Live video is first reported shortly after.
12:59 p.m. PT: Video of shooting is first reported.
1:22 p.m. PT: Suspect's account disabled; all videos no longer visible to public.

Syracuse University professor Roy Gutterman, an expert on media laws and free speech, said Monday that it's uncertain whether, with nearly 2 billion users, the social network will be able to prevent more violent videos such as the Easter Day shooting from appearing.

"I don't care how many algorithms you employ, you're not going to be able to catch everything," he said. "People are surprised by the violence we see, but it's the world we live in now."

First published April 17 at 2:50 p.m. PT.
Update April 18 at 9:14 a.m. PT: Added that the suspect has been found dead.

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