Experts discuss mental health, social media and the 'Facebook killer'

- A man dubbed the "Facebook killer" took his own life on Tuesday after a police chase in Erie, Pennsylvania. Steve Stephens posted a video on the social media site on Easter Sunday showing him gun down a stranger, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior, on a Cleveland Street.

Despite Stephens' suicide, questions remain as to why he committed such a random act of violence. Medical experts say his mental health likely played a role, and they're hoping the incident opens the discussion of mental illness across the nation.

"Given the times and everything that's going on, there are a lot more stressers. People just don't know how to cope with it. We're not taught these things when we're in school. Most parents really aren't sure of ways to teach their kids how to appropriately express their emotions and to control their behaviors," said clinical psychologist Dr. Elyssa Barbash of Tampa.

In the videos Stephens uploaded to Facebook, he was heard telling a friend over the phone that he "snapped." Stephens claimed he went on a killing spree to get attention from an ex-girlfriend and his mother.

Barbash said his violent actions, publicized to nearly 2 billion Facebook users, may have been to get attention from both his loved ones and the public at large.

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"It's kind of the nature of the times right now. It definitely is attention seeking, wanting to get attention from people who possibly could have cared, or to show people this is what you brought me to do and that you guys could have stopped this," explained Barbash.

Stephens is not the first person to post a violent video on Facebook. In January, four black suspects in Chicago were arrested for kidnapping and beating a white schizophrenic man. The group shouted racial slurs at him while recording the ordeal on social media.

"They know that Facebook Live is an available means of getting attention," said Barbash.

Stephens' video stayed on Facebook for about two hours before it was flagged and removed within 23 minutes of the report.

"Before this, I know I couldn't say that I've ever witnessed a murder, and now so many people can say that," said social media expert Jennifer Vickery. "I think it has tarnished [Facebook's] overall brand. I think users, at least the users I've spoken with, say that with the atmosphere in the last few days, they didn't want to go on Facebook, because it was so traumatic."

Vickery said the shooting should be clear sign for social media sites that a change is needed in the way user post content.

"Having that many users, they have to have some kind of system that they'll either delay uploads or live streaming, or have some kind of approval process. From the technology side, I feel like there's got to be a way for them to manage that and be capable of that," said Vickery.

Facebook officials have said they plan to work on a faster system for flagging and removing violent content.

Mental health experts, like Barbash, said the problem that must be addressed first and foremost are the untreated mental health issues that lead to the violent content.

"There are so many ways that this could be preventable, like teaching people how to regulate their emotions, how to deal with distress, how to even stop a negative thought in its tracks, which then leads to feeling better and could prevent something like this from happening," said Barbash.

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