Father of killed reporter asks regulators to investigate Facebook

WDBJ reporter Alison Parker (L) is pictured interviewing Vicki Gardner in Moneta, Virginia August 26, 2015 moments before she was shot, in this combination of still images from video posted to the Facebook account of Bryce Williams. REUTERS/via Facebook/Handout via Reuters
The father of a slain journalist urged federal regulators in a complaint filed Tuesday to make Facebook change how it polices content, accusing it of failing to remove footage of his daughter’s killing from its platforms.

Andy Parker, father of journalist Alison Parker, said at a news conference Tuesday that the social media company was violating its own terms of service by hosting videos on Facebook and Instagram that showed the attack on his daughter.

Alison Parker, a TV news reporter for WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, and a cameraperson, Adam Ward, were killed in August 2015 by a former co-worker, who attacked them during a broadcast.

Alison Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, were pronounced dead at the scene. The former co-worker later died by suicide.

In the complaint, filed with the Federal Trade Commission, Andy Parker and Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic said that, despite assurances from company executives that footage of the attack would be removed, video of it continues to resurface on Facebook and Instagram.

“Posting violent content and murder is not free speech, it’s savagery,” Parker said at the news conference.

In a statement Wednesday, Facebook said, “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.”

The company added, “We are also continuing to proactively detect and remove visually similar videos when they are uploaded.”

The complaint to the FTC said that Facebook and Instagram do not review flagged or reported content in a timely manner, which makes it hard to eliminate widely shared videos.

“Volunteers who spend significant time monitoring social media platforms for violative content often must wait weeks after reporting content before any response from the platform; even after these efforts, videos often remain on the site,” the complaint said.

The complaint said that volunteers had helped Parker report videos on Facebook and Instagram, but that videos of the shooting have reappeared or persisted.

Two such videos — initially posted on the day of the killings, six years ago — were reported on Facebook as recently as Oct 6, the complaint said. Two others, also posted in 2015, were reported on Instagram on Oct 5 and had yet to be removed, it said.

The law clinic requested that the FTC make Facebook change how it monitors content or face hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.

An FTC spokesperson, Juliana Gruenwald Henderson, said in an email that the agency’s officials “take these complaints very seriously.” She declined to comment on Parker’s complaint, saying that “the existence of any investigation is nonpublic information.”

The complaint was filed as tech giants face increasing pressure from the government, whose scrutiny has recently landed on Facebook in particular. The FTC filed a revised antitrust lawsuit against the company this year, and this month, a whistleblower spoke to Congress about company research on the harms Instagram could do to teenagers and about Facebook’s ability to police misinformation.

Last year, Parker and the Georgetown Law clinic filed a complaint with the FTC accusing YouTube, which is owned by Google, of deceiving consumers by refusing to take down videos that violate its terms of service.

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

He also called for Congress to regulate social media companies, saying, “I hope my FTC complaint gets traction, but ultimately, Congress is going to have to fix social media before it ruins our country and the world.”

In an interview Wednesday, Parker also linked his complaint to the testimony given by Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, about the company’s ability to police content that appears on its platforms.

“Her testimony maintains that social media companies have the AI and the ability to scrub murder and misinformation, stuff that they say they don’t allow on their platform, but they will not remove it because it affects the bottom line,” he said. “They monetised Alison’s murder.”

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