YouTube was hit with an FTC complaint about videos showing a young woman’s violent murder.
The woman’s father, gun safety advocate Andy Parker, and Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic filed an FTC against YouTube on Thursday. Parker’s daughter Alison was working as a local news reporter for WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia when she was killed on live television in 2015.
Videos of Alison’s death have circulated on YouTube ever since. According to her father, repeated requests for the removal of the videos have gone unanswered by the company.
“After years of urging YouTube to remove videos of my daughter’s murder in accordance with its own rules, the only responses I’ve received are empty promises and outright lies,” Parker said in a released statement. “If YouTube won’t take this issue seriously, the FTC must act to rein in its outrageous behavior and hold the company legally accountable.”
The complaint alleges that the video platform and its parent company, Google, are in violation of its own terms of service by “hosting videos that graphically depict people being murdered, capitalizing on their final moments for pure shock value and entertainment.”
Parker alleges that YouTube hasn’t removed the videos even as the company benefits financially from the ads that run before them. However, YouTube points out it has an official policy ads on such content.
“Our are designed to protect the YouTube community, including those affected by tragedies,” said a YouTube spokesperson in a statement to Mashable. “We specifically prohibit videos that aim to shock with violence or accuse victims of public violent events of being part of a hoax. We rigorously enforce these policies using a combination of machine learning technology and human review and over the last few years, we’ve removed thousands of copies of this video for violating our policies. We will continue to stay vigilant and improve our policy enforcement.”
A YouTube search conducted by Mashable pulled up mostly news outlet coverage of Alison’s murder. However, a deeper search of the video site, as well as a broader search on Google, pulled up raw video of the shooting on YouTube. While a number of the videos have been deleted, a few videos dating back to 2015 were still live on the site.
In a statement, Georgetown Law highlights how the complaint is the “first of its kind to challenge the widespread circulation on YouTube of murder videos and conspiracy theories meant to harass those affected by acts of violence.”
The complaint also details how violent videos have fueled some of the most toxic conspiracy theories online. The harassment of the families of the children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting is the most well-known example. Parents have been by internet conspiracy theorists, not just online but in real life as well, who have fixated on photos and other media about the shooting in an effort to falsely prove it didn’t happen.