The family of a grandfather who was shot dead on the sidewalk in a video posted to Facebook by the killer has sued the social media company.
Debbie Godwin, the daughter of Robert Godwin Sr who was 74 when he was shot in cold blood on in Cleveland last year, filed the suit against earlier this month in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
Seeking an amount in excess of $25,000, the suit claims that Facebook had a duty to warn the public and law enforcement after killer Steve Stephens, 37, posted menacing remarks on the platform prior to shooting Godwin on April 16, 2017.
The complaint, which DailyMail.com has reviewed, alleges that Facebook, because it collects and analyzes vast amounts of data on its users, knew that Stephens owned a gun and had criminal intent.
On the day of the murder, Stephens posted a Facebook update that read in part, ‘I’m a my breaking point I’m really on some murder s**t’ prior to shooting Godwin, the complaint alleges.
Sometime later in the day, he gunned down Godwin, telling grandfather that his girlfriend Joy Lane was the reason he was about to die.
The killer posted the footage on Facebook and sparked a three day manhunt that ended with Stephens committing suicide when police cornered him in Pennsylvania.
Facebook responded to the lawsuit in a statement to DailyMail.com.
‘We want people to feel safe using Facebook, which is why we have policies in place prohibiting direct threats, attacks, serious threats of harm to public and personal safety and other criminal activity,’ said Natalie Naugle, Facebook’s associate general counsel.
‘We give people tools to report content that violates our policies, and take swift action to remove violating content when it’s reported to us. We sympathize with the victim’s family, who suffered such a tragic and senseless loss,’ Naugle said.
Online publishers in the US are typically not held liable for content posted by users, under specific legal protection granted by Congress.
However the new lawsuit hopes to circumvent that protection by claiming Facebook should have reasonably known about Stephens’ murderous plan and taken action.
The suit specifically says ‘the claims asserted herein do not require the Facebook Defendants to monitor, edit, withdraw or block any content supplied by its users.’
In May, Facebook said it would hire 3,000 more staff to police what users post, joining 4,500 already in place to stamp out violence, hate speech and child abuse images.
The company was forced to act after an outcry over a number of disturbing incidents broadcast via Facebook Live, its ‘streaming’ service that lets users put whatever they like directly on the network.
The shooting of Godwin was a high profile example of such violence on the platform.
Stephens took to Facebook on Easter Sunday last year to share footage of the horrifying moment he drove up to his elderly victim, got out of his car and opened fire.
Godwin, who had nine children with various partners and a number of grandchildren, was on an afternoon walk when he was approached by Stephens.
‘Finally found somebody I’m going to kill, I’m going to go kill this old dude,’ Stephens could be heard saying in the Facebook video.
Godwin could be seen trying to shield himself with a plastic bag just seconds before he was shot.