The father of a journalist killed on the air is urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook for allegedly allowing videos of her murder to remain on the platform.
In a complaint filed Thursday, Andy Parker alleges that Facebook and Instagram deceive users by claiming to ban material that glorifies violence, but failing to proactively police the platforms for that type of content.
“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,” he alleges in a complaint prepared by a civil rights clinic at Georgetown University Law Center.
He adds that videos of the murder of his daughter, Alison Parker -- who was shot and killed in 2017 while conducting an on-air interview -- remained on the platforms after people reported the clips to Facebook and Instagram.
“To this day, for example, videos depicting Alison Parker’s brutal murder are easily accessible on Facebook and Instagram, despite being reported to both platforms several times,” his complaint alleges. “These videos are neither educational nor newsworthy, and to the contrary are often explicitly designed to glorify violence, shock and disgust viewers, or promote conspiracies about Alison’s death.”
While Parker is criticizing Facebook for failing to remove content, his complaint comes as conservative politicians are attempting to require platforms to carry all legal content -- which might include the videos of his daughter's murder.
It's not clear how the FTC will approach the complaint against Facebook.
But Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, an expert in legal issues surrounding online content, says the complaint "makes a categorical error" by arguing that a company's terms of service are promises about the content that people can expect to see on the site.
He adds that judges have ruled in the past that terms of service are not marketing representations.
In 2010 a federal judge in California dismissed a user's claim that Facebook violated its terms of service by failing to enforce its anti-bullying provisions. “While these provisions place restrictions on users’ behavior, they do not create affirmative obligations,” the judge wrote in that matter.
David Greene, a lawyer with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that human rights organizations have often criticized Facebook, YouTube and other platforms for taking down graphic evidence of human rights abuses.
"They do get pressure from both sides on this," he says. "They get pressure both to remove all depictions of death as well as pressure to preserve them."
While Facebook and Instagram broadly ban violent or graphic content, the companies also say they sometimes make exceptions for material that's “newsworthy and in the public interest.”
For its part, Facebook says the videos of Parker's murder violate the company's policies.
“We are continuing to remove them from the platform as we have been doing since this disturbing incident first occurred,” a spokesperson says. “We are also continuing to proactively detect and remove visually similar videos when they are uploaded.”
Last year, Parker filed a similar FTC complaint against YouTube. To date, the agency has not publicly taken action on that complaint.