After a 12-year-old girl’s death was broadcast on social media, police could do little to keep the disturbing footage from spreading online.
The video immediately appeared on various sites, including Facebook and YouTube, both of which have since made efforts to remove the footage. YouTube took the video down, saying it violated the website’s policy on violent or graphic content.
But, according to media reports, the video lingered on Facebook for nearly two weeks before the social media giant started removing versions of the footage from its pages.
By then, people as far away as the United Kingdom had seen it.
Katelyn Nicole Davis, of Polk County, Ga., died Dec. 30, broadcasting her suicide using a streaming app called Live.me. The 40-minute live stream showed the girl saying she had been sexually abused by a family member, according to BuzzFeed. Later, Davis, wearing a white, long-sleeved blouse, can be seen tying a rope to a tree outside her family’s house. She apologizes as she looks toward the camera, according to Quartz, and then steps off her foothold.
The girl’s death underscores the slippery slope entailed in providing a platform people can use to share their lives publicly in real time. Last July, Facebook acknowledged that while live video can be a powerful tool to document events, sharing — and allowing — videos on the platform must be done responsibly. But what has often surfaced is jarring and, sometimes, graphic content.
Most recently, a group of four people used Facebook Live to broadcast themselves torturing and taunting a mentally disabled teenager. Last August, law enforcement officials successfully petitioned Facebook to disable the social-media accounts of Korryn Gaines, who was live-streaming her armed standoff with Baltimore County police.
In October, the social media giant announced that it will begin considering the newsworthiness and public interest of difficult or graphic content before censoring it — even when it violates the site’s rules. According to its policy, Facebook does not allow self-injury or suicide.
In Davis’s case, the original video was not hosted by Facebook. Versions of the video that were later circulated on Facebook included a “graphic video” warning in the beginning.
Shortly after Davis’s death, Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd told Fox 5 that the police department had been flooded with outraged messages, emails and phone calls from people — including some from Britain — demanding that the video be taken down. Dodd told Fox 5 that he has contacted several websites that posted the footage but that there’s not much else he can do to keep it from spreading further.
“We want it down as much as anyone, for the family, and it maybe harmful to other kids. We contacted some of the sites. They asked if they had to take it down, and by law they don’t. But it’s just the common decent thing to do in my opinion,” Dodd told Fox 5.
In a statement Monday, the police department asked anyone who has knowledge of the video to keep it “off of the Internet.”
A representative of Live.me told BuzzFeed that the girl’s account and video were removed as soon as the company was alerted.
“We understand that users had begun circulating footage of the tragedy before our support team had been able to respond, and we are actively working to track down those videos and have them removed from Facebook and other video-sharing sites,” the representative said.
Edited versions of the footage that don’t show the girl’s death remained on YouTube on Saturday.
A memorial account called Justice for Katelyn Nicole Davis has been created and has so far garnered more than 7,000 followers.
No arrests have been made in connection with the sexual assault accusation. A criminal investigation is continuing.
The National Suicide Prevention urges people to contact social media safety teams at 1-800-273-8255 if they see someone posting suicidal thoughts online.