Facebook grapples with pages exploiting Newtown victims

Authorities ask the social network to take down intimidating posts and fraudulent tribute pages surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

One of the many Facebook tribute pages created to honor the victims of the Newtown tragedy. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Government officials and family members of victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have asked Facebook to delete several offensive posts or tribute pages related to the massacre, according to the Associated Press.

Authorities have said that many of the Facebook pages are being used to berate survivors and victims' families, while others are fraudulently asking for funeral fund donations.

"Certainly there have been many, too many, of these pages that are intimidating or harassing or exploitive," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told the Associated Press.

Facebook has responded saying that it will work to remove the offending posts and pages but that some of the tribute pages help people share their sorrow.

"On Sunday, Facebook briefed Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen about our efforts to protect the families. We continue to work closely with his office, the families, and the foundation representing the victims of Sandy Hook to ensure that we respond as quickly as possible to concerns," a representative for the social network told CNET. "We also created a new, streamlined, customized process with dedicated staff to allow concerns specific to the Sandy Hook tragedy to be addressed directly and immediately, while also recognizing that people across the country want to express grief for a terrible national tragedy."

In December, an armed man stormed the Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 children. Many of the victims have been memorialized and several of the survivors have been lauded on social networks. According to the Associated Press, more than 100 Facebook pages have been created and dedicated to Victoria Soto, one of the teachers killed in the shooting.

The insulting posts include conspiracy theorists who allege that the shooting was staged and all victims were actors. According to the Associated Press, a Facebook tribute page for survivor Kaitlin Roig -- the teacher who saved her students by barricading them in a bathroom -- has a post that reads, "Congratulations Kaitlin or whatever your name is.. Now you're famous and got to meet the 'President.' You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Lawmakers have asked Facebook to remove the pages that are not authorized by the victims' families and to also make sure new fraudulent pages aren't created. Under Facebook's terms of use, it is prohibited for people to open accounts for anyone but themselves.

"For the past few months, our rapid response team has acted swiftly to remove inappropriate materials flagged by the foundation and the families," the Facebook representative told CNET. "We will continue to be vigilant."

Update, February 26 at 1:05 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Facebook representative.

About the author

Dara Kerr is a staff writer for CNET focused on the sharing economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado where she developed an affinity for collecting fool's gold and spirit animals.

 

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