A trio of lawmakers representing Newtown, Conn., where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located, wrote a letter to Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to complain on behalf of families and victims who say they may have been exploited for their loss by bad actors on the popular social media site.
Since the tragedy Dec. 14, Facebook users have created hundreds of unofficial tribute pages dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook, including more than 100 tribute pages for first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who is hailed as a hero for shielding her students as she was gunned down in the shooting in which Adam Lanza allegedly killed 26 students and teachers.
But not all of the people behind some of the tribute pages have good intentions.
The letter, which is signed by Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, asks Zuckerberg to remove Facebook pages cited in complaints submitted by Donna Soto, Victoria’s mother, and Kaitlin Roig, a Sandy Hook teacher who survived the shooting, “for violating the above terms of service.”
“Many give the appearance they were created by loved ones in the names of the victims. Unfortunately, many of these pages have become vehicles for harassment, intimidation and possibly financial fraud,” the trio wrote. “Pages providing platforms for people to violate the privacy of families as they grieve, or seek financial gain through soliciting donations under false pretenses, or generating Facebook ‘likes’ for marketing purposes, should not be given quarter in the Facebook community.”
The lawmakers note that shady tributes violate several of Facebook’s terms of service, such as providing false personal information on Facebook, creating an account for someone else without permission and bullying, intimidation and harassment.
“If you do not believe these pages violate your terms of service, please detail in a written response why,” the letter reads. “If Facebook is already looking into this matter, please detail what you have done thus far to address the take-down requests from Donna Soto and Kaitlin Roig.”
Esty’s office did not immediately provide a copy of the Soto/Roig take-down request, but the congressional offices pledged to work with Facebook to address their constituents’ grievances.
“We recognize that Facebook receives a large volume of reports and requests each day, but this issue deserves and needs priority enforcement of your own well-established policies,” the letter concludes. “We trust you will do the right thing.”
A Facebook spokesperson who asked not to be identified said the company “has been working closely” with families and a foundation representing Sandy Hook victims “to identify, review, and take action” on content posted to Facebook ”in line with our terms.” The source said Facebook has also created a “dedicated staff” to address concerns related to the Sandy Hook shooting, and Facebook briefed Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen on its efforts.
“Hours after the tragedy, we reached out to law enforcement to provide assistance. We are continuing to work closely with the families and the foundation representing the victims of Sandy Hook to ensure that we respond as quickly as possible to concerns,” the Facebook spokesperson said. “For the past few months, our rapid response team has acted swiftly to remove inappropriate materials flagged by the foundation and the families. We will continue to be vigilant.”
The spokesperson did not comment directly on the Soto/Roig take-down request.