Facebook is a place of unlimited connectivity and information sharing. Most of us view Facebook as a benign place to post photos and share funny videos. We probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how the information we share is used on the back end.
Facebook engages in what is known as data mining-a rigorous process of filtering, sorting and analyzing each user’s information in order to understand their client base. It is this understanding which helps Facebook to make a profit.
Last April, one disturbed Facebook user posted some concerning status updates on his profile, in which he threatened violence and murder. Shortly thereafter, he posted a video of himself shooting and killing 74-year-old Cleveland resident Robert Godwin Sr. Two days following the murder, while being pursued by the police, the gunman shot and killed himself.
The tragedy has raised a question about the responsibility Facebook may have played. Does an enormous corporation with abundant access and attention dedicated to monitoring its nearly 2 billion users have a responsibility to warn about threats of violence? Should Facebook have caught these threats and reported them to law enforcement? Could this failure to act have indirectly resulted in Mr. Godwin’s death?
This is the argument of Mr. Godwin’s family. They have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in which they are suing the company for negligence and failure to warn. If the Godwin family’s lawsuit is successful, it has the potential to redefine the responsibilities that data miners have in protecting public safety.