Georgetown University Law Center and gun-safety advocate Andy Parker filed a complaint alleging YouTube illegally deceives consumers by allowing violent murder videos to endure on its platform.
The complaint, which was filed with the Federal Trade Commission on Feb. 20, is the first of its kind to challenge the spread of videos that depict murder and proliferate conspiracy theories against victims of gun violence on YouTube, according to a Law Center press release.
In August 2015, Parker’s daughter, Alison Parker, a reporter in Roanoke, Va., was shot to death along with her cameraman, Adam Ward, while conducting a live television interview. YouTube videos display footage that Ward’s camera caught of the shooting, as well as the GoPro the shooter was wearing.
Parker has been trying to get YouTube to remove the videos for years, but his requests have been largely ignored and rejected by both YouTube and its parent company Google, he wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“The two co-founders of Google started with a mission statement—’Don’t be Evil,’” Parker wrote. “But for all the good Google has done, they are in fact perpetrating evil every day they let videos of my daughter stay on their platform.”
The content has reappeared on YouTube since it was originally posted to the website, according to Rachel Guy (LAW ’21), one of two student attorneys representing Parker as part of the Civil Rights Clinic, which works with clients facing discrimination or constitutional rights infringements, among other issues.
“Both of these sources of footage were uploaded to YouTube on the same day that Alison died, and since then, iterations of these videos have proliferated on the site—some add music and other effects,” Guy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Andy, understandably cannot watch these videos, but hates knowing that people are getting sick entertainment from his daughter’s death and that the site is profiting from them.”
After learning about YouTube’s lack of action to Parker’s requests, the Civil Rights Clinic decided to file the complaint with the FTC, according to Guy.
“The more the Clinic learned about YouTube’s responses to Andy and to other users, and families of victims, the more it became obvious that this type of behavior constituted illegal consumer deception,” Guy wrote. “Because of how widespread this problem is, we felt that FTC investigation and potential penalty is the best way to ensure that YouTube changes this behavior entirely, rather than simply addressing specific videos.”
The complaint argues that the easily accessible videos depicting Parker’s death on YouTube violate the company’s Terms of Service. The videos thus indicate that Youtube is deceiving consumers about the platform’s safety, according to the complaint.
“YouTube violates its Terms by hosting videos that graphically depict people being murdered, capitalizing on their final moments for pure shock value and entertainment,” the complaint reads. “The platform’s Terms of Service proclaim that violent content is not allowed, leading users to reasonably believe that they will not encounter it. In reality, these videos are commonplace on the platform, and many of them have remained there for several years.”
YouTube does not allow content that encourages illegal or dangerous activities that could risk serious physical harm or death, according to its harmful or dangerous content policy. In the policy, YouTube asks users to report content that they think would violate the policy. YouTube had removed thousands of copies of the video of Parker’s shooting since her death in 2015, according to a YouTube statement in The Washington Post.
YouTube enforces its policies on violent content with an aim of protecting users, according to the statement.
“Our Community Guidelines are designed to protect the YouTube community, including those affected by tragedies,” the statement read. “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.”
By filing the complaint, the Law Center hopes to push YouTube to take down videos like those of Parker’s dauther’s death so that people like Parker do not have to watch the death of their loved ones, according to Guy.
“Our primary goal has always been to get these videos taken down [and] end the torment that Andy experiences every day in knowing that they are on YouTube,” Guy wrote. “The FTC Complaint has the benefit of being able to end this same torment for all families in the same place.”
The issues that the Law Center and Parker raised in the complaint about videos of Parker’s daughter extend to help all victims of gun violence and their families, Parker wrote.
“This action today is for all the families and survivors—from Sandy Hook to Parkland, and countless others who’ve been victimized,” Parker wrote. “The days of Google’s inexcusable and unlawful conduct– enabling, promoting and profiting from heinous content must end.”