Family of Robert Godwin, who was fatally shot last year in Cleveland, says Facebook was negligent in failing to act on attacker’s threats
The family of 74-year-old Robert Godwin, whose murder was broadcast on Facebook, has sued the social network for negligence and wrongful death.
Godwin was shot at close range in Cleveland in April last year as he walked home from an Easter meal with his family. His attacker Steve Stephens filmed a first-person view of the shooting and uploaded it to his Facebook page, where it remained for more than two hours and was copied, reposted and viewed millions of times.
The lawsuit, filed by Godwin’s daughter Debbie on behalf of the family, alleges that Facebook was negligent in failing to act on Stephens’ “intimidating and coercive threats of violence” on the platform.
On 16 April, minutes before the shooting, Stephens, 37, posted an emotional message to his page explaining that he had “lost everything” through gambling and was at his “breaking point” and about to do some “murder shit”. “FB you have 4 minutes to tell me why I shouldn’t be on death row!!! I’m dead serious #teamdeathrow.”
The lawsuit, first obtained by News 5 Cleveland, argues that with Facebook’s data mining capabilities the company should have identified this post as a credible violent threat and acted on it.
“Mr Godwin was forced to speak with Mr Stephens prior to his death, with a gun pointed at his face,” states the suit. “Sadly, Mr Godwin spent the last minutes of his life in fear, and anticipation, of his death.”
Stephens fled the scene but was spotted by police days later in Pennsylvania. Police tried to pull him over, and after a brief pursuit Stephens shot and killed himself.
At the time of the killing, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook.”
The suit states that it is not seeking to hold Facebook responsible for the content published on its platform but for breaching their duty of care to its users.
In addition to suing Facebook, the suit names ad-tracking company Atlas Solutions, social analytics firm Crowdtangle and the estate of Steve Stephens as co-defendants.
Facebook associate general counsel Natalie Naugle said that the company has policies that prohibit direct threats of harm and that it gives users tools to “report content that violates our policies, and take swift action to remove violating content when it’s reported to us”.
“We sympathise with the victim’s family, who suffered such a tragic and senseless loss.”
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