Should users be punished for sharing Facebook murder?

Local social media experts talks on deadly Facebook video

Law enforcement around the country is on the hunt for a killer.  Steven Stephens is accused of the cold-blooded murder of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior and posting his death on Facebook.

There’s a $50,000 reward for information that leads to Stephen's capture.

Billboards are now up along roadways, including one on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

Investigators say Stephens is driving a White Ford Fusion with temporary tags and warn he’s armed and dangerous.

10News is also learning more about the victim.  Godwin was a father of nine and a grandfather of 14.  His family describes him as a gentleman who was just out for a stroll. 

His girlfriend says Godwin asked her to call him when dinner was ready.  Instead, she got a dreaded knock on the door.  

“And then the police officer came to me and said, do you know a man that's 74?  He's deceased.  It's like my whole heart is...  I just need for y’all to pray for my kids.  I don't know what I'm going to do without him.  My kids are eight and 11.  They don't have a father no more, because somebody wanted to take him from us,” says Angela Small.

Stephens complained about his life during a Facebook live stream.  He blamed his desire to kill on a bad breakup with an ex-girlfriend, gambling debts and his job at a children's mental health facility.

The horrific video raises questions on the role of social media and mental health.  It's hard not to be impacted by seeing the deadly shooting unfold online.  Many wonder if the accused gunman showed warning signs before snapping.

Social Media experts tell 10News that more has to be done to stop this violence from being shared online.

“I've got a lot of guilt, and anger, and frustration.  I snapped.  I just snapped, dog, I snapped,” says Stephens in one of his Facebook videos.  “Found somebody I'm about to kill. I'm about to kill this guy right here,” he says as the video shows him approach Godwin.

Stephens says, “Can you do me a favor?  Can you say “Joy Lane”?  She's the reason why all this is about to happen to you,” Stephens says.

The violent video is posted on Facebook.  Godwin is shot in the head and left to die on the sidewalk.

The murder was up more than two hours before being removed and viewed by at least 22,000 people and shared 1,200 times.

Jennifer Vickery, Social Media Expert and CEO of National Strategies PR,  believes there should be a law punishing users who like or share this kind of crime.

“Should they be responsible as well for liking it?  This is a whole new problem we have as a society we've never seen before. Even liking this kind of violence, criminal activity, then are you taking a part in it,” says Vickery.

A Twitter follower reached out to 10News saying he unknowingly clicked on the murder, then reported it to Facebook.

He got this response from Facebook:

He's appalled Facebook didn't immediately take it down.

“I want to see there's no copycat version.  We stop this trend from getting progressively worse,” says Vickery.

One Facebook VP writes on a blog: “It was a horrific crime one that has no place on Facebook... And are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards.”

Vickery believes Facebook should delay and review video posts. Also, watch for any warning signs of a mental health break to help prevent this from happening and from showing up in our feeds.

“People like to vent.  They want the attention, maybe they feel very alone.  There could be depression, other underlying mental health issues, and I think we need to get them help.  When does it stop,” says Vickery.

Stooping even lower, the victim's family warns several fake fundraising pages have been set up claiming to help.

Tonight, we have the one verified account by Go-Fund-Me

This page was created by Wesley Scott Alexander, a stranger 2,000 miles away in Phoenix. Alexander wrote on Facebook that he’d seen the horrific video showing Godwin’s shooting death and thought it was “disgusting.”  

GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne says in the case of Alexander’s page, the site has “spoken with the GoFundMe campaign organizer, members of the family, and local authorities. We’ll guarantee the money will be deposited directly into the family’s bank account.”

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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