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WRONGFUL DEATH

The family of a man whose killing was posted on Facebook is suing the company

AP Photo/Mike Householder
A memorial to Robert Godwin Sr.
  • Hanna Kozlowska
By Hanna Kozlowska

Investigative reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

The family of Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old man whose 2017 murder was posted on Facebook by the man who killed him, is suing the company in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook was negligent, having knowledge about the shooter Steve Stephen’s intentions, and failing to alert law enforcement. It says the company had “more than sufficient” time to prevent Godwin’s death.

The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 19 in a Cleveland court, is based on the claim that Facebook has a “special relationship” with its users, and that because it has access to all kinds of information about them—including their behaviors, intentions, feelings—it has a duty, which the company acknowledges, “to promote safety and security and to report violent threats and behavior.”

It also says that Facebook’s conduct “was intentional, willful, malicious, in bad faith and in reckless disregard for the rights of Mr. Godwin.” Quartz reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update this post with any response.

Stephens posted several videos related to the murder, as well as a threat in a post, where, according to the lawsuit, he said:

…my breaking point really on some murder shit.FB you have minutes to tell me why shouldn be on death row!!!! dead serious #teamdeathrow

The first video he posted included his intention to shoot someone, the second the killing, and a third, broadcast on Facebook Live, his confession. Users reported the third footage shortly after it was broadcast, but it took around two hours for the video of the killing to get taken down by the platform and for Stephens’ account to be disabled.

Last year, after Facebook was chided for the incident, experts told Quartz that the turnaround time was actually quite fast. However, footage of another killing was available on the platform for 24 hours. The company’s problem with violence is particularly acute on Facebook Live, its broadcasting feature. Between its launch in April 2016 and June 2017, three murders and two gang rapes were broadcast on Facebook Live, according to Buzzfeed News.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg referred to the incident himself last year, saying the company has a “lot of work” and that it will “keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening.” The company is investing heavily in content moderation, hiring thousands of people to scour through often gruesome content.

Here’s the full text of the lawsuit:

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