Livestream Social Media Platforms Providing an Audience for Criminals

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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 vigil for Robert Godwin Jr. was held in Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, April 17, 2017. (Credit: WEWS)

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.

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