Andy Parker Wants Social Media Sites to Remove Traumatic Videos of His Daughter Alison Parker's Murder
Parker says the responsibility has fallen on his family to see that that footage is removed. But it shouldn't be that way.
After television journalist Alison Parker and her colleague, cameraman Adam Ward, were murdered by a former co-worker during a live broadcast in 2015, video of the crime circulated across social media.
According to Alison's father Andy Parker, that footage is still out there. And he and others have been trying to have that footage scrubbed from every platform.
"I was aware that the video of Alison's murder consumed pages and pages and pages on YouTube," Parker said.
"I was just stunned that it had proliferated, that YouTube would allow that kind of graphic content and murder on their platforms when they clearly say, 'No, we don't allow this.'"
Parker said the responsibility has fallen on his family to see that that footage is removed. But it shouldn't be that way. "Google's answer was, 'Well, you have to flag every one of them,'" he said. "Me, me, me personally. 'You have to flag videos that you feel are inappropriate.' It's like, you're asking me to watch my daughter's murder over and over and over again. That isn't going to happen."
For Parker, the problem isn't with the individuals posting the videos so much as the big digital platforms that allowed the posting to happen.
"These social media platforms, they're protected from any kind of liability," he said. "You can't sue them for doing this stuff."
That's because Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act provides a legal shield for digital platforms.
"We wouldn't have these problems if you took away the immunity from these platforms to be sued," Eric Feinberg said.
He is an activist with the group Coalition for a Safer Web. He's been helping the Parker family try to take down the videos, but Section 230 makes that nearly impossible.
"Section 230 is an anti-consumer protection law," he said. "It does not allow for someone like Andy and Barbara to litigate or go after these companies."
Parker went to the Georgetown University Civil Rights Law Clinic, and they agreed to help him approach Google and Facebook.
"We tried to be nice and say, 'You need to do the right thing,'" he said. "And, of course, that got no response.
"And so we finally filed an FTC complaint last year in February of 2020," he continued. "So it's coming up on two years that we filed an FTC complaint against Google for violating their terms of service. They say, 'we don't allow this.'"
Google has not responded to the 2020 FTC complaint.
In a 2020 statement to the Washington Post, YouTube said it had removed thousands of videos of Parker’s shooting since 2015, adding, “Our Community Guidelines are designed to protect the YouTube community, including those affected by tragedies.”
The statement continued, “We rigorously enforce these policies using a combination of machine learning technology and human review. … We will continue to stay vigilant and improve our policy enforcement.”
But Parker says the videos can still be found. And not just on Google's platforms.
"We know that there are still videos of Alison's murder on Facebook," he said. "So that's when we decided to do the FTC complaint against Facebook. Facebook claims that they have taken it down, and they have not. It's as if Mark Zuckerberg is basically telling me, 'Screw you. Oh and by the way, screw the FTC and Congress because I can do whatever I want to.'"
According to Parker, the platforms profit from having this footage. "Social media platforms, they can do this, and they choose not to. And so, what's the motivation here? What is the motivation? Why would they not take this off?" he said.
"But it's because we know, and most people don't know, that if you click on something, what they want to do is they want to keep your engagement on the platform so that advertisers can see it," he said.
"So it's not just if you click on an ad, they make money. It's when you click if you don't click on anything else, if you click on another video, and in the case of YouTube, you've got the scroll bar on the right of the column on the right-hand side that has all the related videos and all of that."
Parker said that every time someone clicks on that, they're collecting a person's data, and they can turn around and sell that data to advertisers.
"That's what they do. They monetize it," he said. "They make money from it. They want to keep you on the platforms, and that's why they won't remove it."
Feinberg said advertisers have a role to play in all of this, too. "Where these platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram, get their oxygen is advertisers," he said. "And I think advertising brands need to take a better part and be more proactive with these platforms."
"More companies, more brands in the advertising industry need to take ownership of this with us."
Parker insists that keeping the videos on the platform isn't a First Amendment issue.
"Showing a murder video and maintaining that on your platform, that's not free speech," he said, "It's savagery, and that's all it is, plain and simple."
And the grieving father said he'd like to see more legal action.
"It's really up to Congress," he said. "I want to see Congress, if nothing else, I want them to do what I call Alison's Law, where they limit the scope of what they're going to amend on section 2 30, to prohibiting murder video, violent content, hate speech, harassment. Let's just amend it to include that in actions, in actionable legal action that we can take against these platforms."
"We need to pass and take the immunity away from these platforms that allow for this kind of nefarious, toxic content," Feinberg noted. "If there was no immunity, Andy could sue Facebook, he could sue YouTube, he could sue any platform that has Alison's video up there. Instead, because they're covered by this archaic 1996 law that gives them immunity, there's no incentive for them to take it down."
In response to the FTC complaint, Facebook said in a statement, "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.
"We are also continuing to proactively detect and remove visually similar videos when they are uploaded," they added.
But so far, Feinberg said, the complaint hasn't yielded much concrete action. "I can still go on Facebook as we speak. I can find Alison. I can still find videos of that horrific attack. It's been three weeks now since the FTC complaint has been filed, and there's been no action. And part of the FTC complaint was that their reporting systems are archaic, obsolete, and we got no response. The videos are still up."
In the future, Parker would still like to see legislation address this bigger issue.
"I want to see Congress lift their liability immunity so that we can have our day in court," he said. "That's what I want to see. I want to see Google and Facebook brought to justice for the pain and the suffering and cruelty that they've inflicted on not just me, but a lot of people."
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