Facebook has responded to a letter from Connecticut lawmakers, warning that families of the victims of December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School could be exploited by bogus memorial pages on the social networking site.
“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,” lawmakers said in their letter to Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. They said some memorial pages were giving out private contact information for victims’ relatives, and, in some cases, were using the tragedy for marketing purposes. They urged that some of the pages be taken down.
“We trust you will do the right thing,” the lawmakers said to Facebook.
Facebook replied: “We appreciate the opportunity to clarify misconceptions that may exist about Facebook’s response to this national tragedy,” wrote Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president of U.S. policy, in a letter obtained by ABC News.
“Since the horrific shooting, Facebook has been committed to helping the families, assisting law enforcement, and eliminating fraudulent and abusive material while balancing the needs of Americans who have used Facebook to mourn, commemorate the victims, and organize.”
Kaplan said further, “In instances where the material was troubling, but not prohibited by our terms, Facebook took the added steps of contacting page administrators and connecting them with the particular community member who wanted to the content removed. In a number of instances, the administrators responded positively and voluntarily removed posted content.”
Facebook has been working directly with people in Newtown, Conn. since last year, a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News. A special unit at Facebook has been in regular, “daily” communication with group leaders like Tom Bittman, chairman of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, which represents the victims’ families.
“Facebook crafted a special expedited reporting process that prioritizes these concerns and, with rare exceptions, achieves results in a matter of hours. This system has been in place for many weeks. Under this special system, we have had over 100 interactions with families and individuals affiliated with the tragedy, including Donna Soto,” Kaplan wrote.
Donna Soto is mother of slain Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto, for whom many unauthorized online memorials have been created. Some pages ask for donations — with no assurance, the lawmakers said, that the money would go to aid Sandy Hook families. Other pages are littered with hate speech.
Kaplan’s letter includes a quote from Mr. Bittman: “While there are many abusive posts and sites on Facebook, Sandy Hook Promise and many victims’ families have been very appreciative of the work that Facebook has done with us to accelerate the deletion of fake personal profiles, and especially pictures of young children. While we would like Facebook’s policies to be more aggressive with respect to abusive posts and unpoliced memorial sites, we do believe that they are enforcing their policies, and going above and beyond for us in particular.”
“Over the past two months,” wrote Facebook’s Kaplan, “over half of the reported Sandy Hook-related content violated our terms and has been removed… To date, we’ve removed 109 unauthorized photos of child victims from the site.”
The spokesperson for Facebook told ABC News that the company’s response to the original letter — sent by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty — is meant to explain how Facebook has been employing its resources to provide best assistance to the victims’ families. “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 spokesperson said. “We will continue to be vigilant.”
The original letter to Facebook was posted to Senator Blumenthal’s official website.