Footage of her daughter’s murder went viral. Now Bianca Devins’ mother wants to change the internet
On July 13, 2019, Kimberly Devins got the call no parent ever wants to take. Her 17-year-old daughter, Bianca, was in danger, she was told by police who had been alerted to some disturbing footage proliferating on social media. Not long afterwards, on a dirt road near where Bianca lived with her mother and sister in the town of Utica, New York, her lifeless and bloodied body was found. Her killer, 21-year-old Brandon Clark, had filmed the murder using his cellphone, and had distributed the video as well as imagery of Bianca’s body across Snapchat, Instagram, and Discord. Unwitting viewers of the graphic imagery had contacted police.
When authorities found Clark, he was still using his phone to generate live-streamed footage. His was a heavily staged crime: he had spray-painted the words “MAY YOU NEVER FORGET ME” on the ground, and set an indie song to play on repeat from speakers. The knife he used to kill Bianca had been hidden in his car the entire time he, Bianca, and another friend had been out at a concert. After killing her, he moved her body onto the ground, covered her with a green tarp, and spoke to family members on the phone in a way that convinced them he was suicidal. He then called police to alert them to his whereabouts and told them what he’d done. “I’m not going to stay on the phone long,” he added, “because I need to do the suicide part of the murder-suicide.”
Both Bianca and her mother had considered Brandon Clark a family friend. He met Bianca through social media, where she often posted pictures of herself and identified as an “e-girl”. There’s a name for men who follow beautiful young girls on social media and attempt to ingratiate themselves with those girls: orbiters. It’s a label the orbiters dislike but also throw at each other. You are not a real friend to these girls, it says: you are merely someone who orbits around a bright star and means nothing to her. In incel or red-pill terminology, “beta orbiters” are the opposite of alpha males who have sex with women. When Clark posted an image of Bianca’s body to a Discord server shared by her friends and followers, he allegedly wrote: “sorry, f**kers, you’re going to have to find somebody else to orbit.” When police arrived, he slit his own throat and took a selfie.
Brandon Clark did not succeed in his murder-suicide. He survived and was later sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison. But the impact of what he did continues even to this day. When I speak to Bianca’s mother, Kimberly, she tells me that recently, the imagery Clark distributed of her daughter’s body has begun to appear on TikTok: “It was on TikTok about a month ago. It was on a TikTok video. It was uploaded to Instagram — the last I know about was in November… People will make me aware of it. People will message me and let me know that it’s there.”
Kimberly Devins has been dealing with an onslaught of graphic imagery from her daughter’s murder for over three years. She details the experience during a phone call, in between work meetings. Her tone, straightforward and matter-of-fact, makes it clear this has been her life for a while now. “It’s just, you know, I never feel like I can let my guard down,” she says. “I’m constantly on guard around social media. I never know when [those pictures] are going to be uploaded… It’s just like you’re re-traumatized every time you have to see that. I mean, that’s my 17-year-old daughter. We have to see her like that. No one should have to continuously look at that.” Bianca’s younger sister, Olivia, couldn’t face logging on to any social media for a year after Bianca’s death, for fear of coming across one of the images or videos.
In the months after Bianca’s death, the incel community on sites like 4chan picked up footage of Bianca’s murder and amplified it. They had, according to friends of Bianca’s, been harassing her for at least a year prior to her murder because of her online presence. A popular influencer, she was known to have male admirers. “A lot of this is from the incel community, and they just hate women,” says Kimberly. “And Bianca was a strong woman that advocated for herself and for other people and really stood up against the incel community when she was alive. But I mean, it’s been three and a half years. I don’t understand these people who are still doing this. I don’t understand them doing it at all. To me, it just doesn’t make sense. I guess I just don’t have that evil in me to understand it.” She adds that online incels have put Bianca’s murderer “on a pedestal” since her death, and that this twisted admiration seems to drive the continued sharing of images of her body.
Kimberly thought Brandon Clark was a quiet, nice man when he was alive and friends with her daughter. But now she says she realizes he was fully aligned with that online incel community: “There’s definitely this toxic masculinity where they believe they’re entitled to women… and I really think Bianca stood for everything they hated. She was a strong woman. And, I mean, even the motive behind her murder is: If I can’t have you, no one can.”
Clark killed Bianca after a night out during which she had kissed another friend. It became clear during the trial and from some of his social media messaging during and after the murder that Clark was obsessed with Bianca and that, although she saw him as only a friend, he believed he had the right to be with her romantically. Clark made an apology to Bianca’s family and friends at his trial, although his boastful posts and the premeditated way in which he carried out the murder led Kimberly to believe that it was all an act. “That apology was not — I wouldn’t even categorize it as an apology,” she says. “He is just very narcissistic and wants to be famous and he said what he thinks people want to hear. I don’t believe he’s sorry at all. I think he’s quite pleased with himself.”
Kimberly’s memories of Bianca are of an abidingly kind and thoughtful person who proactively helped people throughout her life: “She was a beautiful person, stronger than I could ever be… Over the years, I’ve continued to get messages about the way Bianca helped or inspired people. She’s really good at giving advice. She was a talented artist. She was an aspiring model, I think. I think she could’ve done some really wonderful things if she had that platform as a model. She’s just a really, really sweet, kind person.” Kimberly had Bianca when she was a teenager herself and, in many ways, they grew up together. Bianca, Olivia, and Kimberly were a close-knit family who thought of each other as best friends. Without her, “it just feels empty, I guess,” Kimberly says. “Bianca and her sister and I were very, very close. And it just always constantly feels like something’s missing.”
These days, Kimberly busies herself with holding social media companies to account. The platforms incels used to proliferate imagery and footage of her daughter’s death — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, 4chan, Discord — have always been able to hold up their hands and say that they aren’t legally responsible for what users choose to share. In the early days, Kimberly tried desperately to have every photograph or video removed by reporting each individual instance through the networks’ reporting portals. Her complaints were hardly ever upheld and she never heard back from a human being. It was only after she contacted her local congressman and he contacted the same companies onor her behalf that she ended up with a contact at Instagram. She’s angry that it had to come to that — but even more angry that other families who don’t have the ability to bend the ear of local politicians might have to go through the same thing with no resolution at all. “Social media is often described as the Wild West,” she says. “It’s just so unregulated, and yet it’s so immersed in our culture and in our lives.”
Last week, the US Supreme Court began hearing arguments in two cases that could change the Wild West. Section 230 is a law that currently shapes how the internet works. In its simplest form, it states that platforms like Twitter or Facebook aren’t responsible for what is published on them. They are seen as effectively neutral. This argument comes somewhat unstuck when you factor in the algorithms behind such social media networks. YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, for example, will take into account the kinds of videos you view and suggest that you watch more content like that.
Such algorithms can send users down an increasingly radical rabbit-hole. That’s the argument of families who are bringing those two cases to the Supreme Court. In both Gonzalez v. Google and Taamneh v. Twitter, families of those who were murdered by Isis terrorists argue that their relatives were put at risk by those algorithms. One case concerns radicalization through Twitter, and the other radicalization via YouTube videos (Google is the parent company of YouTube.)
Kimberly Devins sees distinct parallels between the ideologies of Isis terrorists detailed in the case and incels who advocate for murderous violence against women. She says she experiences the continued sharing of the graphic imagery of Bianca as “psychological terrorism”, and she has been campaigning for Section 230 to be overturned for a while now. Indeed, Kimberly has campaigned ceaselessly since Bianca’s murder. First, it was for Bianca’s Law — a piece of legislation signed into effect by Governor Kathy Hochul in December 2022 — that makes sharing graphic images of crime victims online illegal in the state of New York. Now, she hopes that the Supreme Court realizes how Section 230 may have once worked for a fledgling internet, but is no longer fit for purpose.
Early arguments in the two cases suggest that the conservative-minded SCOTUS judges are leaning toward upholding 230, though we won’t know full outcomes until the summer. Critics of the cases have argued that if 230 is overturned, it would change the Internet as we know it. They argue that an essential freedom will be taken away if social networks are forced to heavily regulate the content on their platforms. But heavy regulation isn’t what Kimberly Devins wants; she simply wants to live in a world where faceless misogynists can’t share images of her daughter’s body with impunity. The family are still unable to stem the tide of photos and videos of Bianca. Surely there has to be another way.
“I guess I just had an immediate mother’s instinct of like, we need to fix this,” she says. “And my first thought is I need to protect my daughter’s dignity. She was being exploited all over the Internet after her death. And that just wasn’t okay with me… You know, we’re going through everyone’s absolute worst nightmare. The worst thing you can do is lose a child, especially to murder. And then to have the pictures of that all over the internet, people being harassed, we were being harassed…”
What drives Kimberly to continue, despite the emptiness of Bianca’s absence and despite the fact that she doesn’t feel Bianca’s killer will ever feel remorse, is that she might be able to change things for someone in the same position in the future. “I’m a fighter,” she says. “I just had this advocacy instinct. This can’t happen to another family.”