Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.A father who says he has to constantly relive the brutal murder of his daughter has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to demand Facebook be held accountable for its failure to remove footage of the horrific shooting from its platforms.
On the morning of August 26, 2015, television journalist Alison Parker was in Moneta, Virginia reporting for a CBS affiliate station. At 6:46 a.m., she was in the middle of a live interview when a disgruntled and mentally ill former reporter approached her and began shooting.The gunman shot cameraman Adam Ward, then chased down and murdered Alison as she attempted to escape.The gunman then posted a recording of the horrific incident, shot on a GoPro camera he was wearing. Almost instantly the footage was downloaded, edited, and shared widely online.Facebook repeatedly promised to remove all copies of the video from its platforms, but more than five years later, Parker’s parents are still reliving the murder of their daughter, because Facebook and Instagram have utterly failed to remove the footage.Now, Parker’s father is demanding the FTC take action.“The reality is that Facebook and Instagram put the onus on victims and their families to do the policing of graphic content—requiring them to relive their worst moments over and over to curb the proliferation of these videos,” reads a complaint filed by Andy Parker with the regulator on Tuesday, and reviewed by VICE News.The video was used by conspiracy theorists and hoaxers, who posted copies of the GoPro footage as well as the raw TV feed on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, using it in some cases to claim the entire incident was a fake.
The complaint says that Parker “cannot stand the thought that videos of his daughter’s murder are being used to promote dangerous conspiracy theories, for monetary gain, or simply for pleasure or shock value.”Andy Parker cannot physically bring himself to watch the last moments of his daughter’s life over and over, so a team of volunteers helps him by flagging videos on his behalf on Facebook and Instagram.Just last week, on Oct. 6, one of these volunteers reported two videos of the murder to Facebook. The videos were initially posted over six years ago, on the day of the horrific murder, but they remain on the platform despite the fact being reported. On Oct. 5, volunteers reported another three Instagram videos showing the murder. They also have not been removed. Parker’s efforts to get his daughter’s last moments removed from Facebook have been heard at the highest levels within the company. Parker has been working with a nonprofit called Coalition for a Safer Web, which aimed to remove extremist content from social media. Last year, the group’s president, Marc Ginsberg, reached out to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and requested that a video of Alison’s murder be removed from Facebook. On February 29, 2020, Sandberg wrote back, saying, “Thank you for your note—and bringing this to our attention. We’re really grateful. This video has been removed and saved to prevent future uploads.”
The group also recruited Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono to aid their effort, and in December 2020, she received the following response from Facebook:“Our thoughts are with Ms. Parker’s family and friends. It is reprehensible than anyone would share a video of her murder, and we have worked hard to keep that video, and others like it, off our platforms. Through our Violent and Graphic Content policy, we aim to remove content that shows videos of people or dead bodies suffering violent acts, as well as any content that glorifies violence or celebrates the suffering or humiliation of others.”Despite these repeated promises to remove the footage, it remains available on both Facebook and Instagram. “These videos violate our policies and we are continuing to remove them from the platform as we have been doing since this disturbing incident first occurred,” a Facebook spokesperson told VICE News. “We are also continuing to proactively detect and remove visually similar videos when they are uploaded.”Parker last year filed a similar complaint with the regulator against YouTube, also for hosting copies of the video. The complaint said YouTube was violating its own terms of service by hosting content it claims is prohibited, and urged the FTC to “end the company’s blatant, unrepentant consumer deception.”Parker’s complaint against Facebook, written by Aderson Francois from the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, similarly claims that the social network is engaging in deceptive trade practices and as such is violating Section 5 of the FTC Act.“Facebook and Instagram’s misrepresentations deceive consumers about the safety of the platform and the difficulty of users securing the removal of violative content. These deceptions are material: if consumers knew they bear the burden of policing the site for this content, they would not use the platform. Further, if they knew that Facebook and Instagram retraumatize the families of murder victims by requiring them to repeatedly watch their family members die if they want the video of that death removed from the internet, they would not use the platform.”“Mr. Parker and families who have experienced similar tragedies do not deserve to endure the pain of knowing others are deriving pleasure from the deaths of their loved ones. FTC action to prevent continued harmful consumer deception is both appropriate and necessary,” the complaint states.