Facebook Livestreams a Murder, and Must Now Face Itself

THE VIDEO IS shaky, like so many other handheld Facebook Live videos. A steering wheel fills the foreground, and a bright sunny day bobs by outside the car’s windows. The man filming drives slowly, narrating as he goes. He isn’t talking to just anyone, though anyone could be watching; he is talking to one woman, whom he blames for what’s about to happen next. He stops the car. “I found somebody I’m ’bout to kill,” he says, opening the door. “I’m ’bout to kill this guy right here, the old dude.” A chime sounds, reminding him that he’s left the keys in the ignition. He ignores it, and heads across the street to confront the man. Within seconds, the single most horrific act ever to appear on Facebook Live will be broadcast.

A random murder, on Easter Sunday.

The entire video is 57 seconds long. Less than a minute: That’s all it takes to broadcast a cold-blooded homicide to thousands of people around the world. And all it takes to raise questions about the limits and responsibilities of a platform that has pledged to reflect humanity in its purest form.

When Facebook launched Facebook Live just under a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg told Buzzfeed that “we built this big technology platform so we can go and support whatever the most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways people want to communicate are as time goes on.”

Well, Facebook Live has certainly succeeded in that effort, though some of that communication may be rawer and more visceral than the company had anticipated. Since its launch, Live has provided an unedited look at police shootings, rape, torture, and enough suicides that Facebook will be integrating real-time suicide prevention tools into the platform. And though murders have been captured by witnesses on Facebook Live—and people have even been killed as they were streaming to the service—this appears to be the first time a killer has streamed themselves committing a homicide.

In the video, a man that Cleveland police have identified as 37-year-old Steve Stephens gets out of his car and approaches an elderly shopper carrying a grocery bag. Stephens demands his target repeat a woman’s name—the woman who he is apparently making this video for. By this point the barrel of the gun is visible in the frame, and the victim senses that something is very wrong. As Stephens fires a single shot, the camera jostles away, so it actually misses the one moment he was seemingly so intent on capturing—but when it pans back, his victim is lying in a pool of blood. “That motherfucker dead ’cause of you,” Stephens concludes, addressing his intended audience.

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