Americans are outraged by news of last Wednesday’s police shooting of Philando Castile, an African-American man attacked by police officers in St. Paul, Minnesota during a traffic stop for a broken tail light.
Castile was tragically shot and fatally wounded in front of his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and their 4-year-old daughter, both of whom were in the car at the time of the shooting. Reynolds used Facebook Live to stream her video of the aftermath of the shooting, a graphic and disturbing sequence of images that shows Castile bleeding and groaning in pain while the officer curses and continues aiming his gun at Castile.
The video has garnered over 4.4 million views and nearly 300,000 shares as well as a lengthy comment from President Obama that responds to both the video and the shooting earlier this week of a black man named Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Like Castile, Sterling’s shooting was captured on video by bystanders and posted to the internet.
President Obama stated that “All Americans should be deeply troubled by the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling… and Philando Castile… I am encouraged that the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge, and I have full confidence in their professionalism and their ability to conduct a thoughtful, thorough and fair inquiry….Rather than fall into a predictable pattern of division and political posturing, let’s reflect on what we can do better…”
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton stated that race undoubtedly played a role in Castile’s shooting and called on the United States Department of Justice to investigate.
A Gofundme campaign created by Xavier Burgin to benefit the Castile family was able to raise over $60,000 toward a goal of $80,000 in its first 19 hours. Castile’s sister Moni was also able to start a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $16,000 towards its $30,000 goal in the first 12 hours.
What does Facebook’s role in disseminating knowledge of the incident mean about the social media mogul’s role in society as a whole?
“Typically, posting something that showcases someone getting shot would be an automatic delete” posited Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. On the other hand, the expert states that such videos are treated differently “if it has to do with abuse of power and you position yourself as a news service.”
Whether the posting of video content that posits disturbing content should be allowed on social media websites raises legal and ethical issues “depends on whether the service is considered to be a common carrier with an obligation to not discriminate on the basis of content or use, or a publisher, constrained by considerations of copyright and fair use,” said Mike Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.
“If Facebook’s a publisher that allows individuals to use its platform to post their content, it has the right to determine what gets posted,” he explained. “However, if its a common carrier, then it can’t and shouldn’t, regardless of impact. That’s called free speech.”
According to Jude, the FCC is unsure whether Facebook is a common carrier with a must-serve obligation. This has been a particularly sticky issue in the fight against terrorists’ recruitment through use of social media platforms.
“There has been a lot of dispute regarding the liability of various intermediaries such as Facebook- which doesn’t necessarily fall in areas Congress envisions when they passed various laws,” said Yasha Heidari of the Heidari Power Law Group.