Caught Up in the Moment
Just over five years ago, Facebook introduced a new service called Facebook Live, which enables users to easily produce and share live broadcasts with the rest of the internet. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and creator, made these remarks during the company’s introduction: “It’s like carrying around a little TV studio in your pocket; that’s how convenient live is. Today, anybody with a phone may potentially reach an international audience.”
This isn’t the fictional movie Nightcrawler, this is the reality we live in.
A video may usually be seen on demand after it is aired live. YouTube (now owned by Google) and Twitter provide this user-generated live broadcasting. The obvious consequences of granting “everyone” the ability to broadcast live have emerged. While the vast majority of Facebook videos (or “lives”) don’t present any threat, there have been several cases when users have streamed acts of self-harm or violent criminality for everyone to see.
Examples of Live-Streamed Crimes
- The girlfriend of a Minnesota man fatally shot by police in July 2016 live-streamed the incident, including images of his wounded corpse.
- A drive-by assault on three guys in a vehicle and the racially motivated abuse of a white mentally disabled man have also been broadcast live online in 2016.
- Then, in April 2017, Steve Stephens reportedly posted two videos to Facebook: one in which he planned a murder and another in which he carried it out in Cleveland. He then killed himself after making a live confession.
- The 2017 murder of Robert Goodwin, 74, an Ohio resident, was broadcast live on Facebook, shocking the globe. The pace at which crimes are broadcast live online has been steadily increasing. It is unclear why some individuals broadcast live crime footage online. Nonetheless, authorities have speculated that the move was made to draw attention, boost profile, or make a political statement.
- The horrible live-streaming of the rape of a 15-year-old Chicago girl in 2017 on Facebook raised issues about the role of social media firms and users in preventing or reporting crimes committed online. Authorities said at least 40 people saw a group of five or six males sexually attack a 15-year-old girl while broadcasting it live on Facebook. Police were not informed of the incident until the girl’s mother gave the city’s police superintendent images of the video.
- During a tense confrontation in April 2017 in California, a guy live-streamed himself shooting at cops. Twenty-year-old Sean Vasquez was seen on camera loading a pistol and opening fire on police who responded to gunfire complaints among morning commuters in the city of Covina.
- A North Carolina man, 55 years old, went to report a family member for stealing his mobile phone and ended up filming his death. The 65-year-old Douglar Colson was arrested after being seen on tape arguing with the suspect moments before bullets were fired.
- California, Fresno — Obdulia Sanchez entered a plea of “no guilty” to various counts at a Merced County court hearing. In July 2017, Sanchez was arrested for driving under the influence in an accident that killed her younger sister in Los Banos. Members of Sanchez’s family have confirmed that she was streaming on Instagram Live just before and immediately after the tragedy.
- 2018, Detroit Michigan. Two adolescents were fatally shot, as their shooting was broadcast live on Instagram. One 18-year-old was killed, while the other is took into police custody. The teenager who contacted 911 and claimed responsibility for the shooting was a close friend of the deceased.
- In 2021, a caller told authorities in California that he had seen a guy on social media live-streaming from inside an apartment where two ladies were dead on the floor. Police searched the Rocky Hill Veterans Apartments after a lady reported seeing the broadcast.
Live Crimes Can Lead to Harsh Punishments.
There are no specific laws about live-streamed crimes in the United States. However, many laws spell out punishments for crimes like murder, abuse, and sexual assault. People who choose to live with their crimes create evidence that can be used against them for a long time. Even if a crime is reported on social media and then taken down, law enforcement and social media companies still have access to the information. Common punishments for crimes that are broadcast live include:
The severity of these punishments depends on what each person is being charged with. In the United States, there will likely be specific laws and punishments for crimes that are broadcast live.
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.