Authorities charged four African-Americans with kidnapping and hate crimes in connection with the attack on a disabled white teenager that was streamed live on Facebook, while people on the video shouted antiwhite obscenities and taunted President-elect Donald Trump.
The office of the State’s Attorney for Cook County on Thursday said it has approved charges—including kidnapping, hate crimes, aggravated unlawful restraint and battery and burglary—against Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper and Brittany Covington, all 18 years old, and Tanishia Covington, 24.
Lawyers for the individuals couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
The four individuals allegedly held the victim captive in a residence for about five hours and attacked him while streaming the incident in a 30-minute long Facebook Live video. The video, posted Tuesday, shows a white man tied up and crouched in a corner while two men cut open his shirt with knives and then take turns punching and beating him. Another individual can be heard laughing in the background, while a fourth shouts “F— Donald Trump” and “F— white people.”
The victim’s mouth is gagged, and later in the video he appears to be bleeding from his head. Police in a news briefing Thursday announcing the charges said that the individuals also made the victim drink toilet water and cut a piece of his scalp off.
Police said it is unclear whether the victim had voted for Mr. Trump, but that the charges of hate crimes were brought against the individuals because of the antiwhite slurs documented on video and because the victim was mentally impaired.
“The actions in that video are reprehensible,” said Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson in Thursday’s news briefing. “There was never a question about whether this incident qualified to be investigated as a hate crime.”
The incident is the latest to highlight some of the challenges for Facebook Inc., TwitterInc. and other social-media sites that have invested heavily in live video over the last 12 months. Products such as Facebook Live or Twitter’s Periscope allow users to broadcast their whereabouts in real time.
Since its global launch last April, Facebook Live has allowed users to shed light on events that ordinarily wouldn’t be known by the public. The Chicago police department, for example, broadcasted its news briefings on the incident on Facebook Live as well.
But it has also been used to capture violence and other events that can disturb viewers who don’t know what to expect from a live video.
In the past 12 months, there have been at least 40 violent or criminal acts—shootings, burglaries, beatings—disseminated over live video on Facebook, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of events reported by news outlets.
That number includes this week’s beating and other fatal shootings in Chicago. It also includes a July video from Diamond Reynolds, who used the app to capture the aftermath of the fatal shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile by police during a traffic stop.
The victim of the Chicago attack is recovering from the incident, authorities said. Police said he is an 18-year-old resident of a Chicago suburb who had been reported missing by his parents on Monday. Officers on Tuesday saw what they described as a “disoriented male” walking through an area of the city that is high in violent crime and transported him to a nearby hospital.
“It didn’t seem right,” said Capt. Steven Sesso, a police officer from the district where the victim was found. “[Officers] saw this individual was in distress.”
Police later linked the victim to the video that was being shared on social media depicting the battery of a male, who they now believe is the same individual. Police say that the victim was an acquaintance of one of the accused, Mr. Hill, and had been spending time with him voluntarily since last Saturday. Mr. Hill, police added, brought the victim to Chicago in a stolen van. A fight broke out between the two on Jan. 3 while they were in a residence on the West Side along with the other individuals, which then escalated into the events shown on the Facebook video, police said.
“Images in the video put on display the brazenness of the offenders who assaulted the victim and then broadcast it for the entire world to see,” Mr. Johnson added.
For Facebook, live video is a way to get its 1.8 billion monthly users to come to the site more often and stick around, which could ultimately translate into more advertising revenue. Facebook is in the midst of a high-profile television and billboard campaigncentered on showing everyday users different ways to go live.
But managing sometimes violent incidents has been a challenge for Facebook and other tech companies. Facebook pulled down the original video of the Chicago beating, citing its content standards that ban users from celebrating or glorifying crimes on the platform, a Facebook spokeswoman said.
But the video would have been allowed had it been shared by users to “condemn violence or raise awareness,” the spokeswoman added.
Users can flag violent and disturbing videos to Facebook, which says it has a team dedicated to responding to live-video reports 24 hours a day.
It is also researching ways to automatically detect offensive content. The company has also experimented with proactively reviewing live broadcasts that have gone unusually viral even if users haven’t complained. Facebook said it is also developing artificial intelligence aimed at automatically detecting depictions of violence on live broadcasts.
Violent crime has recently surged in Chicago, which closed 2016 with 762 murders and more than 4,000 shooting incidents. Most of the violence has been concentrated in minority neighborhoods, and African-American men have been overwhelmingly both the offenders and victims of the shootings. African-Americans make up about 33% of the city. Police are implementing a variety of crime-fighting tactics to curb the violence and have promoted a batch of new detectives to address the low rate at which homicides are solved.