Wrong Without a Remedy

My Internet law students recently read Facebook’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.  One lesson learned:  once a picture from one’s Facebook page is shared with others, neither Facebook nor the one who posted the picture can control its uses.   Facebook may be able to delete it from its servers–I’m dubious that it can do so reliably, but for this post I’ll resolve my doubts in Facebook’s favor–but if it is shared beyond Facebook, kiss control goodbye.  A NYTimes article makes the point with a gruesome example.  After Caroline Wimmer was murdered in her apartment Mark Musarella, one of the responding EMT’s, took a picture of her beaten and strangled body and posted it on his Facebook page.  Wimmer’s family learned of the photo through a reporter.  Musarella’s Facebook account was deleted by the time they looked for it–one of his Facebook friends reported the picture to his employer hospital, which fired him–but that did not end the family’s inquiry.  They hired a lawyer to track what happened to the picture while it was on Facebook.  “Facebook said it would provide the Wimmers with certain details about the activity on Mr. Musarella’s account, but only if he — the very man who had taken the picture of the dead woman and posted it for his world to see — signed a consent form. Facebook helpfully sent along a copy of the standard form.”  The Wimmers recently sued Facebook.  Not for money, but “to change things, so no other family members of a murdered person have to experience these things.”  I empathize with the Wimmers’ anguish and horror but this lawsuit is a nonstarter.  The website immunity provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should relieve Facebook of any obligation to screen for or remove content such as this.

9 thoughts on “Wrong Without a Remedy”

  1. I believe that the old world needs to brace itself as cultural standards and social expectations are surely to take a hit in the coming years. While I feel for the Wimmers' and agree that this particular situation is distasteful, I do not believe we can turn back. Unwanted tagged photos have already affected individuals as they search for jobs, try to hide secrets from their parents, etc.

    What's more, I think these cultural shock-waves will reach its climax in 10-20 years from now when our next world leaders will have to face an increased scrutiny on their past as they campaign for office. The youth have experimented with the new web, now they have to own up to it while society at large has to accept it.

  2. What confuses me is why people put these types of pictures up in the first place. I cannot believe an EMT would think it is okay to post a picture of a woman who was beaten and killed. I have heard so many stories of people not getting jobs or getting fired from jobs because of the things they have posted on facebook. If these pictures that people put up are no longer in control when they are shared, whose control are they? Facebook claims that they no longer belong to them as well so where are they going? I feel like with a lot of these websites people lose their common sense and feel like they can be free because they are sitting behind a computer but really they are only hurting themselves.

  3. I agree with Lana… I don't get why some people post certain pictures. We live in a day and age where people love cyber-stalking. My female friends are obsessed with stalking the pictures of people that they just meet, or other people they don't know so well – and it just goes to show that everyone has access to certain things that people post. I think some underage teenagers make very unwise choices when they post pictures of themselves drinking alcohol because they don't know who will see the pictures – and they don't know who will judge them for it.

  4. I agree with Lana… I don't get why some people post certain pictures. We live in a day and age where people love cyber-stalking. My female friends are obsessed with stalking the pictures of people that they just meet, or other people they don't know so well – and it just goes to show that everyone has access to certain things that people post. I think some underage teenagers make very unwise choices when they post pictures of themselves drinking alcohol because they don't know who will see the pictures – and they don't know who will judge them for it. We don't live in a perfect world where people respect each others privacy.

  5. Its almost sad to think that our lives live through our communications off "facebook." I think that Facebook's expansion of privacy to another level, and in turn putting people in harm because of the standard social norm. Nowadays, we are more at risk of random people "cyber-stalking" as Anand put it, and in turn putting ourselves in greater risk. Facebook sets up a limitless spectrum for people to post pictures as a form of communication, but they just constantly push the boundaries of public displays of people personal live. Recently, employers are beginning to use facebook to search candidates for employees, and teenagers who are careless with what they put up as pictures are potentially loosing opportunities in their live.

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