The Dark, Wicked Side of Sharing Violence In Real Time

Four assailants tied up an 18-year-old mentally disabled man, taped his mouth and slashed at his scalp with a knife as he cowered in a corner.

A group of men and boys dragged a 15-year-old girl to a bed and raped her.

Both crimes — and others like them — were captured on video and widely viewed on the internet, which in the age of smartphones and security cameras is not surprising. What made this footage different is that it was shot and posted by the criminals.

They are part of a trend that played out again this week with a killing that captivated the nation: a 74-year-old man in Cleveland was shot by a 37-year-old stranger named Steve Stephens, whose videos first posted on Facebook found an audience of millions.

The crimes have played out like grim reality television — on occasion in real time — with ordinary people becoming unwitting publicists for criminals and social media companies forced to confront the moral implications of offering the world a blank canvas.

That criminals sometimes seek publicity is nothing new. The assailant known as the Zodiac Killer wrote letters to newspapers during a killing spree in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But as technology has advanced, it has been easier for criminals to have their voices heard, said Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California, Davis.

“This is absolutely the dark side of providing an open, live forum for someone to post whatever they want,” she said.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg responded to the Cleveland killing on Tuesday, telling a conference of developers in San Jose: “We have a lot more to do here.”

“We will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” he said.

In Moneta, Va., in 2015, a gunman killed two television journalists during a live broadcast, then apparently posted video on Facebook and Twitter showing the shooting from his perspective.

In Columbus, Ohio, last year, an 18-year-old woman broadcast the rape of her friend on the livestream app Periscope — reportedly while giggling.

In Chicago, at least four violent crimes have been broadcast on Facebook Live since October, including the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl last month and the assault of the mentally disabled man in January.

As many as 40 people watched the rape as it was happening, authorities said. No one called the police.

“It just disgusts me that people could look at those videos and not pick up the phone and dial 911,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters after the attack. “It makes you wonder where are we going, what are we doing as a society?”

The trend is not confined to the U.S. In Sweden this year, police arrested three men suspected of raping a woman while broadcasting it to a group on Facebook.

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Source: Los Angeles Times | Alene Tchekmedyian and Alexandra Zavis