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Push to vet online content after Cleveland Facebook murder

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After Robert Godwin's murder was broadcast live on Facebook, a movement has started to get social media companies to keep violent content offline. (WSYX/WTTE)

The video of Robert Godwin's murder in Cleveland posted on Facebook has led to a push to change federal law. "Godwin's Law" would aim to stop violent videos like that from being posted online and going viral.

Supporters want more vetting of what's posted.

"I've been advocating for a safer internet," said Eric Feinberg, who runs the tech company GIPEC and is leading the push for Godwin's Law.

Feinberg said his company has a way to stop violent content from going viral on social media. He said they can sort through what content is harmful and what's not. He wants lawmakers to require social media companies to do the same. His company could stand to benefit from wider use of its technology but Feinberg said he's been advocating for this change for years.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter currently remove inappropriate content after it's been posted. Often other users must report it.

"He was specific in that video and I've looked at it and said, 'I'm going to kill somebody' and because he knew he had an audience, he carried out the act," he said about Godwin's killer.

Censoring what's posted online raises free speech concerns though.

"Censoring things on the Internet is exceedingly difficult," said Mary Lia Reiter, a criminology professor at Columbus State who studies how crime and social media interact.

Reiter said censoring what people can post online can be a slippery slope to stifling free speech.

"How do you determine and who determines which videos are abusive and how they're abusive and in what way it is abusive and whose rights are threatened," Reiter said. "Can an algorithm do that?"


She said the silver lining to the Cleveland Facebook murder was the video posted helped police figure out who did it. If that video was never posted, they may not have had any leads.

"On one side we want to protect the rights of victims and the families of victims," Reiter said. "On the other side, we want to preserve evidence."

So far there's no bill like this proposed in Washington. Both Senator Sherrod Brown (D - Ohio) and Representative Steve Stivers (R - Upper Arlington) said they would be open to changing federal law to prevent a similar tragedy.

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