But for years he’s been tormented by the fact that on platforms like Facebook and YouTube clips of the attack can be easy to find. He’s had to rely on friends and allies to watch and report them to the companies in hopes of getting them taken down.
“I don’t know how they do it,” Andy Parker told The Technology 202 during an interview Tuesday. His partners have seen them on social networks “more than they should,” he added.
The murder of Alison Parker and her camera man Adam Ward horrified and captivated the nation when their CBS-affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, unwittingly carried it live, and later as it was recirculated by national news outlets and users on social media.
In the years since, Andy Parker has quietly fought behind the scenes to get the world’s biggest tech platforms to take down the videos of his daughter’s death, sometimes succeeding — but not always.
On Tuesday, Parker went public with a new complaint calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to punish Facebook for not removing some of the videos. Parker and his legal team at the Georgetown University Law Center argued the tech giant has broken federal law and engaged in “deceptive trade practices” by not fully scrubbing Facebook and Instagram of the video, despite past assurances that it would remove them.
The complaint cites reports Parker and his team have filed directly with the platforms to remove specific posts that they say have remained untouched years after the attack.
A video search Tuesday by The Technology 202 for “Alison Parker” on Facebook surfaced several clips of the shooting, including the top result, which had over 10,000 views and was first uploaded by a local journalist’s verified account in August 2015.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the videos violate the company’s policies and that they “are continuing to remove them from the platform as we have been doing since this disturbing incident first occurred.” Facebook also takes steps to “proactively detect” and remove similar videos, Stone said.
Parker said those policies matter little if the companies won’t enforce them more diligently, especially with particularly violent content. “I realized early on that this is playing whack-a-mole, and it still is,” he said.
Parker said he heard “crickets” from the FTC about a similar complaint he filed with the agency against YouTube in February 2020. But he’s hopeful that under new FTC Chair Lina Khan, who took office in June, they may finally take action.
“If she does what she says she’s going to do, then she will address this,” he said, alluding to Khan’s comments about cracking down on deceptive and abusive practices by industry giants.
FTC spokesperson Juliana Gruenwald Henderson said in a statement, “We take these complaints very seriously but the existence of any investigation is nonpublic information; the FTC cannot comment at this time.” The agency does not typically disclose whether it’s investigating a matter, but it has made exceptions for Facebook in the past.
YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said Tuesday there's “no place on YouTube for content that exploits Alison Parker’s horrendous murder” and that they "remove videos containing footage filmed by Alison Parker’s murderer, even when uploaded by a news organization.” The statement did not specify whether YouTube also removes videos containing footage of the murder filmed by Ward, Parker's cameraman, which broadcast on live TV that day.
Asked to clarify, Choi said Wednesday that YouTube reviews content on a case-by-case basis and that if a video of Ward’s footage of the murder violates its policies, YouTube will remove it.
Another major hurdle for Parker and his legal team has been the decades-old law known as Section 230 that largely shields platforms from lawsuits over the user content they host. That’s why Parker says he’s supportive of efforts on Capitol Hill to revamp or revoke the legal shield.
One proposal in particular resonates with his team’s legal arguments. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) introduced a bill in May that seeks to “clarify” that violations of a platform’s terms of service are indeed “an unfair or deceptive act” and enforceable by the FTC.
Schakowsky called it a “catastrophic failure” that Facebook hasn’t removed all the videos of Alison Parker’s murder.
“The family deserves the right to hold social media platforms, including Facebook, accountable for this failure,” she told The Technology 202 on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Facebook is protected from that accountability.”
But the bill has only Democratic backers so far and would likely be challenged by Republicans who say the tech companies over-enforce policies and stifle conservative viewpoints.
Digital platforms big and small have resisted efforts to amend or weaken Section 230, which also protects digital services from lawsuits when they remove noxious or “objectionable” material from their sites, including violent content like videos of Alison Parker’s killing.
Andy Parker said he’s hoping the argument that Facebook is misleading the public will land with policymakers, particularly given that it’s also at the heart of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s complaints about the company to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Facebook has strongly pushed back on Haugen’s assertions.)
“We’re basically saying the same thing to two different agencies … and that is, social media, they’re lying to you, they’re lying to all of us,” he said.
In lieu of federal action, Facebook has little incentive to crack down on the videos, he argued.
“They have the ability and they have the technology to scrub the platform of this stuff and they just won't do it because it's a moneymaker for them,” Parker said. “They want to keep you engaged. My daughter’s murder video is clickbait.”
Our top tabs
A top senator told Facebook to preserve the internal studies that the Facebook whistleblower discussed at a hearing last week
Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to preserve internal Facebook research on its platforms’ effects on children, Reuters’s David Shepardson reports. The letter comes a week after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate Commerce Committee panel.
“The testimony … raises significant concerns about whether Facebook has misled the public, federal regulators, and this committee,” Cantwell said, according to Shepardson. “This committee will continue its oversight and work to pursue legislation to protect consumers’ privacy, improve data security, and strengthen federal enforcement to address the digital harms that are the subject of these hearings.”
Top senate Democrat scrutinizes TikTok's handling of extremist content tied to Jan. 6 riot
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) called on TikTok to fork over information about how it policed violent extremist content during the lead-up to and in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, as I reported Tuesday.
Peters expressed concern over reports that domestic extremists used the platform to “recruit, organize and communicate,” and called for TikTok to provide his panel with more information whether its algorithms amplified such content and whether it coordinated with federal authorities on the matter.
The committee and lawmakers in the House have been investigating how social media may have contributed to the violence on Jan. 6. Peters previously pressed Facebook, Google-owned YouTube and TikTok for answers to a similar set of questions. TikTok did not return a request for comment.
Critics blasted Facebook’s blacklist of “dangerous individuals and organizations”
The list of more than 4,000 people and groups punishes certain communities more than others, experts told the Intercept’s Sam Biddle. Users are limited by what they can say about many of the entities on the list, which wasn't previously public. Nearly 1,000 of the entries on the list came from a U.S. government sanctions list, while others came from private databases that purport to track terrorism and violent extremism.
“When a major, global platform chooses to align its policies with the United States — a country that has long exercised hegemony over much of the world (and particularly, over the past 20 years, over many predominantly Muslim countries) it is simply re-creating those same power differentials and taking away the agency of already vulnerable groups and individuals,” said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Facebook defended the secrecy of the list and how it handles such cases. “This is an adversarial space, so we try to be as transparent as possible, while also prioritizing security, limiting legal risks and preventing opportunities for groups to get around our rules,” said Brian Fishman, director for counterterrorism and dangerous organizations.
Rant and rave
House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) tweeted that she was “hacked” and that her account was “erased.” She added, “I know who has done this. I will take care of this.” Twitter said it had “identified no signs of account compromise,” and Waters's office did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter users, predictably, thought the situation was hilarious. CNN’s Kristin Wilson:
MarketWatch’s Chris Matthews:
Lindsay Wigo, a producer at the Republican National Committee:
Inside the industry
- The House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force on Artificial Intelligence holds a hearing on AI ethics today at noon.
- The Atlantic Council hosts an event on the geopolitics of international technology standards on Thursday at 10 a.m.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s consumer protection panel holds a hearing on legislation relating to e-commerce sites, gig workers and start-ups on Thursday at noon.
- National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center Director Matthew C. Allen and executives from Amazon and Walmart discuss counterfeit goods in e-commerce at a Center for Data Innovation event on Thursday at 1 p.m.