Internet Law

Suit claims Facebook had duty to warn of disturbing posts by man who posted fatal shooting video

  • Print.

<img src=”” alt=”Robert Godwin Sr. width=”750” />

Robert Godwin Sr. and his daughter, plaintiff Debbie Godwin. Photo from Facebook.

A lawsuit filed last Friday contends Facebook’s data mining creates a special relationship with its users that includes a duty to warn of disturbing posts that threaten violence.

The suit was filed by the estate of 74-year-old Cleveland retiree Robert Godwin Sr., who was shot to death last Easter in a video broadcast on Facebook, report the Associated Press,, BuzzFeed News, Fox 8 Cleveland and WKBW.

The shooter, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, killed himself two days after the murder during a police chase.

Stephens had posted on Facebook that he had lost everything he ever had due to gambling. “I not going to go into details,” he wrote, “but I’m a my breaking point I’m really on some murder shit. FB you have 4 minutes to tell me why I shouldn’t be on death row!!!! I’m dead serious #teamdeathrow.”

The suit, filed in Cleveland, contends that Facebook collects information on its users to generate billions of dollars in revenue. That business decision to take control of its users’ information and then to profit from it creates a duty of care that was breached when Facebook took no action in response to Stephens’ threat of violence, according to the complaint.

The suit alleges negligence and failure to warn by Facebook and related defendants that assist its data mining operation. The complaint also seeks damages for wrongful death from the Facebook defendants and Stephens’ estate.

Facebook associate general counsel Natalie Naugle gave this statement to Fox 8: “We want people to feel safe using Facebook, which is why we have policies in place prohibiting direct threats, attacks, serious threats of harm to public and personal safety and other criminal activity. We give people tools to report content that violates our policies, and take swift action to remove violating content when it’s reported to us. We sympathize with the victim’s family, who suffered such a tragic and senseless loss.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.