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YouTube faces FTC complaint after failing to take down videos of journalist's murder

Murder and conspiracy videos breach YouTube's own terms of service, the complaint alleges.

YouTube has allegedly failed to take down murder and conspiracy videos.
Angela Lang/CNET

Georgetown Law and the father of Alison Parker, a journalist who was murdered on air in 2015, have filed a complaint against YouTube for failing to take down videos of the murder. The complaint, filed with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Thursday, alleges YouTube allows videos showing violent murder and conspiracy theories to spread online, which violates its own terms of service.

Alison Parker was gunned down on live television while working as a news reporter for WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. Cameraman Adam Ward was also killed during the attack.

"Today, countless videos of Alison's murder are widely accessible on YouTube," Georgetown Law's Civil Rights Clinic and Andy Parker allege. "These videos glorify Alison's murder for sick entertainment, and often promote conspiracy theories about Alison's death that encourage harassment of her father, an outspoken activist against gun violence."

Parker alleges that he's received "empty promises and outright lies" from YouTube whenever he's asked the platform to remove the videos. "YouTube has refused to act because of the money that the video traffic brings in," he alleges.

The complaint also points to conspiracy videos that harass parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook; video footage of teen suicide and murder; and videos of murders that were committed while being live-streamed to social media platforms like Facebook.

"Under the FTC Act, YouTube has an obligation not to deceive its users, including parents who believe their children are protected from viewing violent content," said Aderson Francois, director of Georgetown Law's Civil Rights Clinic.

In response, YouTube said it specifically prohibits "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, and over the last few years, we've removed thousands of copies of this video for violating our policies," a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We will continue to stay vigilant and improve our policy enforcement."

Originally published Feb. 20, 11:59 a.m. PT.
Update, 1:14 p.m.: Adds comment from YouTube.