Facebook Live Doesn’t Kill People

As of this posting, they still haven’t found the man responsible (still refuse to say his name) for the death of Robert Godwin Sr and I continue to pray for his swift capture.

According to NBC News’ website:

“Federal and local law enforcement officers in at least five states were on the hunt Monday for an armed and dangerous fugitive accused of filming himself killing an elderly Cleveland man and uploading the video to Facebook. ‘Our reach right now is basically all over the country,’ Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a press conference Monday afternoon as the frantic search for Steve Stephens was in its second day.”

Yes, I said his name but only in the context of a quote, which is different.

I saw a meme saying that the killer was narcissistic (obviously not the one I posted above), which is accurate but why make a meme about it? That’s like making a meme with a picture of the grass and calling it green. Of course he’s a narcissist. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to say that he’s definitely got some mental issues if he’s justifying his vile actions by saying that Joy Allen, his girlfriend, is the reason for his killing anyone. I don’t even need a Master’s degree in psychology to know that, though I suppose it would make me more credible if I had said degree.

I remember as a kid the movie “Faces of Death” that showed actual people dying in accidents that were caught on tape being the edgiest and craziest thing on film; and now fast forward 20 something years and we have psychopaths recording murder live. It is indeed a scary situation. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” A very true and powerful quote that still holds true today, but we still haven’t gotten the point Dr. King was making: that the missile isn’t the problem but rather the man wielding it.

A sane and rational person would look at what happened yesterday and say, “This man is troubled and wrong. What he did was horrific, vile, and I hope he is brought to justice. I hope the family and friends of this innocent man know peace in some form or achieve some closure surrounding the death of their loved one.” One can see a situation like this, as a logical person, and know that, while it’s sad, it’s still abnormal. It’s not indicative of a trend towards people just going batshit in a relationship and deciding to kill random people but rather a trend in people not getting the mental healthcare they need.

In this case, it was a certain specific “perfect storm” of both situational and internal brain chemistry that lead to this event. You can feel empathy and sympathy for the family/friends of the victim and anger towards the actions of the suspect and still maintain a healthy worldview in general; it’s absolutely possible. I went through some stages of emotional reaction to the news yesterday and came through it on the other side thinking that, while this situation sucks and begs for a better mental health care system, it isn’t indicative that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, as it were.

Since I’m getting my degree in criminal justice, I’ve had to read a lot of books on psychopathy in a criminal context and while it’s not a pretty subject, it’s interesting. You can meet millions of people and not meet a socio/psychopath but there might be one next door – it’s a crap shoot. A sociopath might not ever hurt anyone and no one would know they’re a sociopath because they’ve adapted; they can mimic human emotion so well that they blend. They can be CEOs, teachers, salespeople, scientists, etc. and actually, some jobs are ideal for a sociopath to thrive/survive and not hurt anyone. I’d say you have to be some sort of low level sociopath to be the President of the United States; I personally couldn’t do that job and make those decisions with my level of empathy but I also can’t imagine anyone with a normal amount of empathy finding it easy.

It takes a very special set of circumstances to turn a sociopath into a psychopath. It takes a very unique formula that, unfortunately, science and medicine is still “sussing out” as far as to how a person goes from neurologically being unable to show remorse/being relatively harmless to harming people for enjoyment/from compulsion. Some argue that it’s a situational thing and there needs to be an outside trauma involved for it to occur and some argue that it’s purely chemical within the brain. I think it’s a bit of both, myself – the aforementioned “perfect storm”.

People far more experienced and knowledgeable than I about socio/psychopathy have written scores of books on it. I would highly suggest Dave Cullen’s account of Columbine for an in-depth look at the dominant and submissive relationship of a “team” of psychopaths working in tandem but moreover for his analysis of the nature of psychopaths in general. Believe it or not, Criminal Minds, the TV show, has some pretty interesting insights from a criminal justice perspective if you take out all the drama (which would, admittedly, make for a boring show from an entertainment point of view). “The Serial Killer Whisperer” by Pete Earley is another book I found interesting.

I could “wax intellectual” (or semi-intellectual, in my case) all day but it doesn’t change the actual problem here: people’s emotional knee-jerk reactions to bad news. I’ve said before and I’ll say it a thousand times, the beauty and downfall of the internet is that everyone has a voice. Hell, I have a voice on this thing, as small as it is, and I argued with a 6 year old today on the validity of wearing pants outside. In any case, there are days I feel I’m credible enough to make a valid point and then there are days that I forget to wash my hair in the shower.

I saw this as a reaction from Dr. Dionne Mahaffey to what happened with Godwin Sr. and I felt it was interesting to note. She is a woman who works in Atlanta with a non-profit organization of notoriety. She’s seems to be a decent and intelligent human being. She holds a doctorate in psychology so it’s not like she’s without credibility. I have no ill-will against her and I applaud her efforts in her community, especially since my sister works in Atlanta as a CEO of a non-profit grants consulting firm. Our father owned/started the business before my sister bought it from him after training under his tutelage. Non-profit organizations are and will always have a special place in my heart.

I can have nothing against her personally and professionally but still wholly disagree with her conclusion; it is possible to do so.

What would lead a reasonable, sane, and intelligent woman with a PhD. to come to the conclusion that Facebook Live needs to be shut down? What would cause 42 “likes” and 30 “retweets” of this sentiment? What would lead the New York Times to give this argument credence under the theory that “‘Any of these platforms — especially live ones — encourages users to perform,’ said Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California, Davis.”?

I’m not trying to “put her [Dr. Mahaffey] on blast” or publicly shame her because I think that it’s worthy to explore what would cause this reactionary mindset with something that has nothing to do with the situation at hand. Facebook Live or any live-streaming feature didn’t make this man kill an innocent – it just happened to be a tool for him to use to incite terror. Mission accomplished: terror incited. It no more incites people to “perform” than any other camera does but I don’t see anyone storming Sony, Kodak, Nikon, or Cannon, demanding that all audio and video capturing devices be banned.

The argument has been made in the aforementioned NYT article that people would rather share it than “do something” about it, which I believe to be a pretty asinine point of view. Well, what would you suggest they do? Report it? It had already been reported. Go find a dangerous proven killer with a weapon? Not a good idea if you’re not a trained law enforcement professional. Sharing it might have been partially motivated by morbidity on some people’s parts but that sharing also has been integral in raising awareness of this man’s deed so others in the area could be aware and on the lookout. I agree that the video of Robert Godwin’s actual death (i.e. Him physically being shot) should be edited for the sake of the family and public decency but the public cry for banning a social media live-streaming application is just throwing the baby out with the bath water, as it were.

I’ll answer my own question here a tad and theorize that people come to these reactionary conclusions to ban things that have nothing to do with the situation because they’re afraid. They have every right to be afraid and their feelings are valid but they’re conflating two issues that have no causational relationship so they can make themselves feel better. They want a quick fix/solution to the problem to a. Feel at peace with something senseless and b. Feel like they’re contributing to a solution.

No, I don’t think Facebook Live should shut down as a result of what this man did to an innocent. I think we should take it as it is – that the perpetrator was deeply troubled, did something horrible, and deserves justice for it. Punishing people who want to live-broadcast their child singing at church so family on the other side of the country can see it (which is what I did yesterday) should not be the conclusion to which people arrive.

We need mental healthcare reform and we need it now. The suspect in question was a person working in the behavioral healthcare field as a social worker (as described by his mother). I think what he went and did while simultaneously working in a field to help other people with mental/emotional health speaks volumes about where our overall system is right now. This is alongside scores of other mentally ill individuals who have gone on “rampages” and have killed innocents for insane reasons. The data is there to support that the system for mental health is failing and needs to be explored.

Unfortunately, people would rather blame tools used in the perpetration of a crime and suggest prohibition of those tools instead of the criminal. They would rather treat the symptom to feel slightly better than fight the harder issue of the disease because the disease is too big and scary to comprehend. I can sympathize with that mindset but past that, I have no real use for it since it’s not really proactive, just reactive.

I could segueway into how this applies to the gun rights debate and my pro-second-amendment stance but I think my point is pretty clear: blame the person wielding the tool – not the tool itself.

I won’t beat a dead horse…and if I did, someone would try to ban the baseball bat with which I am beating a deceased equine mammal in the first place.

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