Outcry after Facebook removes pic of dying baby

A mother wants to share a picture of her son on Facebook. He lived only eight hours. Facebook removes the image, deeming it "too graphic." Much later, the company offers an apology and admits it erred.

WMC-TV Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

No one can imagine what it's like to give birth to a child who will only live for 8 hours.

In Heather Walker's case, her son Grayson was born with Anecephaly, a condition that leaves part of the the skull exposed.

Hee died in February. Recently, Walker wanted to share pictures of him with her friends on Facebook. However, as WMC-TV reports, Facebook removed the photographs.

"They allow people to post almost nude pictures of themselves, profanity, and so many other things, but I'm not allowed to share a picture of God's beautiful creation," Walker, from Memphis, Tenn., told WMC-TV.

What followed was that she and her friends began to re-post the pictures on their Facebook pages.

Facebook's response was to -- in Walker's words -- ban her for 24 hours.

This was does not seem to have been the case. Walker was simply banned from posting pictures. Yes, any pictures, which is an automatic -- and, some might say, absurdly draconian -- response in these cases.

The company seems to have made a frightful mess of what is clearly a very personal situation.

Asked this morning why this had happened, Facebook told me that someone had complained about the photos. A human being at Facebook had taken the decision to remove some (but not all) of them. They had been deemed "too graphic."

However, the company has now offered a mea culpa and reversed this decision.

A Facebook spokesman told me this afternoon: "Upon investigation, we concluded the photo does not violate our guidelines and was removed in error."

The spokesman added: "We extend our deepest condolences to the family and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience."

"Inconvenience" doesn't seem to be the finest word here. Facebook's mission is openness and connectedness. It seems clear here that a grieving mother was simply trying to openly share with those closest to her.

As Walker told WMC-TV: "If you're my friend and you want to see the picture then look at it, but if you don't, just like any TV show or anything else you watch, if you don't want to see it you don't have to."

Some might find enormous sympathy with her, but find her logic a little less persuasive. There are many who believe that all sorts of images should be banned from TV and, indeed, anywhere else.

However, though Facebook insists that its original checker was just doing his or her job, it seems that a public outcry persuaded the company to see this case as it really was: a grieving mother sharing personal photographs with friends.

That's what Facebook is supposed to be for, right?

 

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