On Easter Sunday, Steve Stephens killed a man and posted a video of it on Facebook. The video remained on the site for two hours before being taken down, cultivating shares and comments despite the flags, reports on the post, and its inhumane nature. Facebook’s vice president Justin Osofsky publically apologized for the lag time between post upload and post takedown, emphasizing that a post of that nature is against Facebook’s policies and values. Osofsky noted that, while Facebook uses “a combination of artificial intelligence, human moderators and alerts from users to flag objectionable content,” the monitoring system is not perfect and the company will continuously work towards improvement.
While the public has been primarily focused on how Facebook could allow something so horrific to happen, I think we are having the wrong conversation. Instead of asking why the video wasn’t taken down right away, we need to ask why someone would post something like this in the first place. News of this incident was shocking to the public (and rightfully so), but it is important to note this was not the first time someone used social media to broadcast a violent crime. In April 2016, Marina Alexeevna Lonina uploaded a video of her friend being raped to the site Periscope; in May 2016, a teenage girl in Brazil was shown being gang-banged on Twitter livestream; in June 2016, a father learned of his son’s murder on Facebook after a photo of his dead body stuffed in a trunk went viral. The list goes on.
These crimes are appalling, broadcasted or not. But what is worse, I would argue, is that we as a society consume these violent posts and spread them like wildfire. Sure, we may think these crimes are wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from ‘liking’ rape videos on Facebook over 500 times or ‘sharing’ photos depicting murder to thousands of other social media users. If we are willing to like and share these things on social media but aren’t doing anything to stop it from happening, what does that say about our society?
Social media can be a great place to connect and share our lives and experiences with other people, but where do we draw the line on what is or is not appropriate to share? We use these platforms to perform, paint idealized pictures of ourselves, to be in the spotlight. And somehow, in the midst of the performing and painting and spotlights, aesthetic shots of Starbucks frappuccinos have become outdated and we have replaced them with videos of crime and violence. These content shifts didn’t just happen on their own, nor did they emerge from one, single twisted criminal mind. It happened because we, as a culture, have become desensitized and apathetic to violence.
Violence is everywhere; we watch hockey players beat each other into the ice; we see police shooting black men on the news; we see gun use in almost every movie that hits the theatres; we see it dominating the porn industry; we see it in the lyrics of pop music. With violence invading every other aspect of our society, is it really that surprising that now invades our social media?
Being angry at Facebook for taking two hours to remove Stephens’s video is understandable, but it isn’t enough. We need to take a stand against the normalization of violence that embeds our culture. We may not be able to change things overnight, but change starts with you, with me, with all of us. The next time you log into Facebook or scroll through your Twitter feed, make a conscious effort to examine what you’re seeing. Report posts that joke about violence, speak out against apathy, and share posts cautiously.
You have the power to put an end to violence. Use it.