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For most Americans, the Newtown tragedy served as a gut-wrenching reminder that life is precious. The massacre instantly brought communities together, prompting thousands of citizens to publicize condolences and donate to Newtown-related charities. However, according to three Congress members from Connecticut, many Facebook tribute pages have “become vehicles for harassment, intimidation and possibly financial fraud.”
Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Representative Elizabeth Esty recently sent a letter to Facebook, requesting that the company remove a large number of unofficial pages dedicated to Newtown. The lawmakers indicated that pages “give the appearance that they were created by loved ones in the names of the victims” and often request monetary donations for potentially fictitious charities. For example, there are over 100 memorial pages using the name or likeness of Victoria Soto, a young teacher who was killed while protecting her first grade students from the Newtown gunman. The vast majority of these pages were created without the permission of Soto’s family and friends–and many of them contain hateful messages, as well as postings from conspiracy theorists who claim that the shooting was fabricated and that Soto was simply an actress.
Facebook responded positively to the lawmakers’ requests–and on February 25th, the company contacted Senator Blumenthal’s office, explaining that it “had already begun removing abusive pages” and will continue to do so.
While Facebook should certainly eliminate Newtown pages that amount to fraud or harassment, what about all of those pages that fall into the gray area “between harassment or appropriation and offensive but allowable commentary on an event or person”? Is extensive Facebook policing dangerous in this context? Should family members of victims have any say over who can and cannot make a public website honoring their loved ones?
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