Father of slain journalist lashes out at Facebook over violent video

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The family of a murdered journalist is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to take action against Facebook for failing to remove online footage of his shooting death.

Andy Parker said Tuesday the company is violating its own terms of service by hosting videos on Facebook and its sister service Instagram that glorify violence.

Her daughter, TV reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman Adam Ward were killed by a former colleague while reporting for Roanoke, the WDBJ-TV channel in Virginia in August 2015. Footage from the shooting – some of which were taken by the shooter – repeatedly surfaced on Facebook and Instagram despite assurances from senior executives that it will be removed, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by Parker and lawyers at the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic.

“The reality is that Facebook and Instagram are putting the onus on victims and their families to control graphic content – forcing them to relive their worst moments over and over again to curb the proliferation of these videos,” the complaint states.

The complaint states that Facebook engages in deceptive marketing practices by violating its own terms of service and distorting the security of the platform and making it difficult for users to remove harmful and traumatic content.

Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., Did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Andy Parker said at a press conference announcing the FTC’s complaint that he also wanted Congress to take action. It echoed some of the calls made last week by Frances Haugen, whistleblower and former Facebook employee, who accused the company of harming children, inciting political violence and fueling disinformation.

“Alison’s murder, shared on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, is just one of the blatant practices that are undermining the fabric of our society,” Parker said.

Parker said he agreed with Haugen on the need for Congress to impose new restrictions on long-standing legal protections for speeches posted on social media platforms.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for removing some of the protections afforded by a 25-year-old law – in a provision known as Section 230 – that shields internet companies from liability for what users post. In his Senate testimony last week, Haugen urged lawmakers to remove protections in cases where dominant content driven by computer algorithms promotes massive user engagement rather than public safety.

Parker previously worked with the Georgetown Legal Clinic to file a similar FTC complaint last year against Google and its YouTube service. The FTC declined to comment on the latest filing and generally does not disclose whether or not it has decided to investigate a complaint. Parker said he hoped Lina Khan, the new FTC chief appointed by President Joe Biden, would take the complaints more seriously.

But Eric Goldman, a professor of law at the University of Santa Clara and co-director of its High Tech Law Institute, said he saw problems with the case Parker was raising by alleging violations of the terms of service of Facebook. Social media platforms‘ terms of service don’t provide a solid promise that everything on their sites will meet standards, he said, and in fact, they include caveats that “We can’t make a perfect job “.

The FTC is legally able to ignore complaints filed by non-government parties, Goldman noted. As a result, such complaints “are often just for the show,” he said.

In this case, Parker used the complaint announcement platform to appeal to Congress to reduce social media liability protections under Section 230.

Lawyers and attorneys working with Parker, who said he had never watched the videos of his daughter’s murder, detailed on Tuesday the extent to which they tried to remove the videos, including calls to the director of Facebook operations, Sheryl Sandberg.

Safer Web Coalition advocates said they made their own software with the ability to find the videos, but some of the videos reported to Facebook earlier this month were still running right before the group filed its complaint against the FTC.

“Facebook wants the public to control itself. They want you to report, they want me to report. They want me to watch the videos and report them, ”Parker said. “And even when you report it, they ignore you.”

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O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.


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