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Bianca Devins: The teenager whose murder was exploited for clicks

Bianca Devins, surrounded by hearts, in an image she posted on Instagram in May

Like many other teenagers her age, Bianca Devins lived her life online.

The 17-year-old had recently graduated from high school and was looking forward to starting a psychology course at a community college later this year.

As last Saturday approached, she wrote on a gaming platform about how excited she was to be travelling the 250 miles from upstate New York to a concert in Queens. But before she could return home on Sunday morning, Bianca was dead.

The exact relationship she’d had with the man accused of killing her remains unclear. But in the hours after his arrest, it emerged he had shared graphic photographs of the murder online.

In the days since, her story has spread across the world – as have the violent images of her death.

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Her murder, which played out so publicly, is the latest case to place scrutiny on how social media companies police extreme content. Here, we detail how Bianca’s murder was shared and exploited online in the hours and days after her death.

“Here comes Hell. It’s redemption, right?”

Brandon Andrew Clark posed that question, taken from a rock song, to his Instagram followers in a temporary 24-hour story posted before dawn last Sunday.

The next image he shared was far more disturbing. A blurry photograph captioned “I’m sorry Bianca” appeared to show a woman’s bloodied torso.

Before then his Instagram account, which we have chosen not to name, was mostly used to catalogue selfies and posts about music and art. Police believe the 21-year-old met Bianca through the platform two months earlier and their relationship had progressed in person since.

On Saturday, he drove Bianca to New York City from Utica, where she lived, to see Canadian singer Nicole Dollanganger perform. Police said they believed the pair had got into an argument on the way back, possibly about her kissing someone else, and he had fatally attacked her with a knife.

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Police said the suspect shared an even more graphic photograph of Bianca’s body on Discord – a popular messaging platform for gamers. This image showed the extent of injuries to Bianca’s throat and made clear her wounds had been fatal.

Screenshots from the now-deleted private chat on Discord, apparently used by friends of Bianca, show he shared the image at about 06:00.

As concerned friends scrambled to work out if the photo was real, the suspect continued to post offensive content in the group. Members then took screengrabs of the messages and of his Snapchat account and raised the alarm.

By 07:20, Utica Police had received “numerous” calls, including some from other US states, about the disturbing posts. Police said the suspect had also called 911 himself and made “incriminating statements” about his actions.

When an officer tracked him down to a wooded area at the end of a residential road, he stabbed himself in the neck. He then lay down on top of a tarpaulin, which police said he had placed over Bianca’s body, all the while taking and posting more photographs online.

After a brief struggle, the suspect was arrested and taken to hospital. A day later, after emergency surgery, he was charged with Bianca’s murder.

Instagram has not confirmed when it received the first reports about the violent image on his public story. But as Sunday rolled on, word was beginning to spread beyond Bianca’s social group, much of it clouded by misinformation.

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By Sunday evening, users on Twitter had started to talk about and re-share the Instagram posts. Other users implored people to avoid watching his story and report the account.

From the outset, users said their reporting attempts were being rejected for not violating Instagram’s terms. When approached by the BBC, Instagram did not say how long the original posts on the suspect’s story had been allowed to stay up, but screenshots suggest they had been publicly available for more than 20 hours.

Dr James Densley, a professor of criminal justice in Minnesota, said this kind of public violence carried the risk of secondary trauma for viewers, and also re-victimised Bianca herself.

“We have this term for people to rest in peace,” he told the BBC. “Well, really, she can’t, because she’s living in this sort of perpetual infamy online every time her image is shared.”

Some of the first people to discuss the murder were users on website 4chan – a barely moderated internet messageboard where users can post anonymously. Both it, and the even more extreme website 8chan, have become notorious in recent years for the increasingly radical rhetoric posted by some users and their links to a number of deadly attacks.

Source: bbc.com