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Facebook Vows to Improve Content Review Procedures in Wake of Cleveland Murder

Variety logo Variety 4/17/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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Facebook on Monday vowed to improve its procedures for reviewing the content on the massive social network following the public outcry over a video posted Easter Sunday showing the fatal shooting of a 74-year-old Cleveland man.

Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s VP of global operations, issued a lengthy statement Monday detailing the timeline of video postings by Steve Stephens, a Cleveland man suspected of shooting Robert Godwin Sr. around 2 p.m. on Sunday. As of Monday evening, Stephens remained the focus of multi-state manhunt by Cleveland police and the FBI.

Osofsky reported that Stephens first posted a video threatening to kill someone, then posted the video of Godwin’s shooting and then went on Facebook Live to confess to the murder and threaten more killings. So far, Cleveland police have not found any more victims. Facebook eventually removed the videos and de-activated Stephens’ account.

“As a result of this terrible series of events, we are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards as easily and quickly as possible,” Osofsky said. “In this case, we did not receive a report about the first video, and we only received a report about the second video — containing the shooting — more than an hour and 45 minutes after it was posted. We received reports about the third video, containing the man’s live confession, only after it had ended.”

Facebook has come under fire for its reliance on users to flag violent or objectionable content. As Facebook seeks to become a more mainstream platform for advertising and high-end video content, the social media giant is under pressure to find ways to better police the tidal wave of content published daily by its more than 1.8 billion global users.

Here is Osofsky’s full statement:

On Sunday morning, a man in Cleveland posted a video of himself announcing his intent to commit murder, then two minutes later posted another video of himself shooting and killing an elderly man. A few minutes after that, he went live, confessing to the murder. It was a horrific crime — one that has no place on Facebook, and goes against our policies and everything we stand for.

As a result of this terrible series of events, we are reviewing our reporting flows to be sure people can report videos and other material that violates our standards as easily and quickly as possible. In this case, we did not receive a report about the first video, and we only received a report about the second video — containing the shooting — more than an hour and 45 minutes after it was posted. We received reports about the third video, containing the man’s live confession, only after it had ended.

We disabled the suspect’s 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.

In addition to improving our reporting flows, we are constantly exploring ways that new technologies can help us make sure Facebook is a safe environment. Artificial intelligence, for example, plays an important part in this work, helping us prevent the videos from being reshared in their entirety. (People are still able to share portions of the videos in order to condemn them or for public awareness, as many news outlets are doing in reporting the story online and on television). We are also working on improving our review processes. Currently, thousands of people around the world review the millions of items that are reported to us every week in more than 40 languages. We prioritize reports with serious safety implications for our community, and are working on making that review process go even faster.

Keeping our global community safe is an important part of our mission. We are grateful to everyone who reported these videos and other offensive content to us, and to those who are helping us keep Facebook safe every day.

Timeline of Events

11:09AM PDT — First video, of intent to murder, uploaded. Not reported to Facebook.

11:11AM PDT — Second video, of shooting, uploaded.

11:22AM PDT — Suspect confesses to murder while using Live, is live for 5 minutes.

11:27AM PDT — Live ends, and Live video is first reported shortly after.

12:59PM PDT — Video of shooting is first reported.

1:22PM PDT — Suspect’s account disabled; all videos no longer visible to public.

(Pictured: Steve Stephens from a Facebook video)

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