In a letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-5) today formally requested that Facebook remove pages that have been used to harass or exploit the families of Newtown victims. Facebook's terms of service prohibit users from creating accounts for anyone other than themselves. The site's "community standards" request that users refrain from posting personal information about others without their consent. However, over the past several months Facebook users have created hundreds of unofficial pages dedicated to the Newtown victims, becoming vehicles for harassment and potentially fraud.
The letter is copied below:
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,
It has come to our attention that Facebook has received multiple requests from grieving Newtown families to remove Facebook pages being used to harass them or to exploit their loss.
In the past several months, Facebook users have created hundreds of unofficial tribute pages dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook. For example, The Greenwich Time reports over 100 tribute pages have been created using Victoria Soto's name or likeness.
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.
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.
In fact, several of your company's terms of service speak directly to this point. The Facebook terms of service requires each user creating a page agree to a series of commitments, including the following:
"You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."
"You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law."
"You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user."
"You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory."
In the "Facebook Community Standards", your company plainly states, "We ask that you refrain from publishing the personal information of others without their consent. Claiming to be another person, creating a false presence for an organization, or creating multiple accounts undermines community and violates Facebook's terms."
The Facebook terms of service also makes clear, "We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement or our policies."
We ask that you direct your staff to remove the pages referred to in complaints by Donna Soto and Kaitlin Roig down for violating the above terms of service. If you do not believe these pages violate your terms of service, please detail in a written response why. If Facebook is already looking into this matter, please detail what you have done thus far to address the take-down requests from of Donna Soto and Kaitlin Roig. Our staff and we will be pleased to work with appropriate Facebook officials to address these issues affecting the Soto and Roig families, and others who may be affected by such abusive, unacceptable practices.
The horrific Newtown tragedy shocked and shook Connecticut and the nation, capturing hearts worldwide. Unfortunately it also apparently attracted less worthy attention. 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. We trust you will do the right thing.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy
U.S. Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty