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07/11/2015

When Facebook Isn't Sensitive Enough

For her 10th birthday on February 4th 2014, Facebook launched a feature: Look back, allowing you to see a one minute long video made from your own personal Facebook highlights, from when you first joined to when you're creating your video. The next day, February 5th 2014, John Berlin moved people all over the world when he uploaded a video in which he begs Facebook to allow him to watch the Look Back video of his deceased son, Jesse Berlin:


The moving video went viral and Facebook got in touch with him the next day: 

Facebook print scree, John Berlin 

Later that month Facebook changed their policy and since then grants requests to see Look Back videos of the deceased. Look out, this is a trap: if you approach Facebook with a request to see a video of someone who passed away, you are thus informing Facebook of his/her death, which results in Facebook turning his/her profile into a memorialised one - a course of action I highly recommend you avoid since it's irreversible, or if you do pursue, that at least you'll choose to do so and while you're aware of the consequences. 

In December 2014 Facebook launched the feature Your Year In Review: a collection of photos of your "most significant" moments of the past year (by their algorithm) that you uploaded and/or are tagged in, and caused people pain when the algorithm chose to show them significant moments which included dear ones who passed away, like in Eric Meyer's case - Facebook presented a picture of his six year old daughter who passed away that year, on her birthday. 

Print screen, Eric Meyer

The latest feature Facebook came up with, on March 2015, was On This Day: an algorithm chooses memories from your own private Facebook history and present you with it. The problem is that sometime it reminds you exactly of what you would most wish to avoid, like the death of a dear friend, as happened to Sean Forbes:      

 Print screen, Facebook, Sean Forbes 

 Print screen, Facebook, Sean Forbes 

In October 2015 Facebook made some changes and you can now adjust some settings in this feature, for instance, define people and dates you would rather not come across in your memories, but that solution isn't good enough, cause: A. You can't choose not to come across any memories whatsoever and B. the mere process of listing people and dates you wouldn't want to jump out at you from your feed could be painful in itself.  

Up to this point you could claim Facebook isn't to be hold liable, you could say "she didn't think about it" or "you can't expect an algorithm to be sensitive" - and some people do say that, but not all of them. But in the next cases I'm about to introduce you to, you can't take Facebook off the hook that easily: it's acting in a manner which is insensitive and inconsiderate, period, and those are people within Facebook acting in this manner, not an algorithm (and algorithms are made by people too): 

In December 2011, before 20 years old Anthony TJ Cannata committed suicide by shooting himself, he uploaded a picture of himself holding a gun pointed at himself. It's such a chilling image you would expect Facebook to remove it immediately, wouldn't you? Well, it didn't. Family members and friends approached it multiple times about it before it was finally taken off his account (article, article). 

Anthony TJ Cannata

It took Facebook about a month to remove the picture of TJ holding a gun to his mouth, so most of his friends and family members were exposed to it - an image they are not likely to easily forget, regretfully. His mother said
"All I wanted to do was stop everyone from seeing the picture of the gun in his mouth before it happened, and it breaks my heart to see it up still". 

In August 2014 Daniel Rey Wolfe, a Marine veteran, uploaded pictures documenting his suicide. His friends and former comrades immediately reacted, reached out to him and tried to support him and stop his attempt, but he succeeded in taking his own life (article, article). Seven images of horrible, graphic nature remained on his timeline, so we would expect Facebook to immediately take them offline, wouldn't we? Well, apparently, no. His friends were furious


"Who needs to see their son, brother, cousin or friend like that? Facebook will remove a picture of a bare ass or exposed breast with the quickness. How are those more dangerous than a young man mutilating himself before he commits suicide?"

Daniel Rey Wolfe



After two days of his friends and family members reporting the clearly visible pictures to Facebook and receiving replies that they will not be removed because they do not violate community standards, Facebook removed his entire profile. Well, Facebook, not the solution we've hoped for. 

Print screen, Facebook, a friend of Daniel Rey Wolfe
It's also insensitive and painful to suggest to the friend to ask Daniel to remove the photo, as he is no longer alive

Hollie Gazzard was murdered by Asher Maslin in February 2014. It's now November 2015 and her family still has to see on her profile nine pictures of the two of them together, as: the murderer is her ex boyfriend, Hollie's profile was memorialised so her family is locked out of it, and Facebook refuses to remove the offending pictures because "it maintains the profile as it was when the person passed away". Seriously, Facebook? Do the people who work for you have any idea what is it like to deal with a family member being murdered? Do you seriously think it is better to preserve the profile exactly as it is than to remove pictures of the deceased with the person who killed her and was sentenced to life in prison? Her friends and family members are avoiding her profile since her death to spare themselves seeing those pictures. Whom does your tough, unrelenting, unthoughtful policy serve, exactly? 


Hollie's Facebook profile in which you can still see pictures of her with her murderer and ex boyfriend 

Her family didn't contact Facebook with a request to memorialize her account - a stranger did that, an action I highly discourage you from taking. Don't report a profile to Facebook asking for it to be memorialized - that decision should be left up to the family. If you are a family member and you do wish to memorialze an account - take into consideration that such a report has consequences and that the process is irreversible, and do so only after you're absolutely certain that this is what you wanna do.  

Facebook, you still have a long way to go, I'm sad and sorry to note. 


November 11th update: 
On the positive side, it is good to know that sometimes individual people do manage to reach Facebook and make her change her mind, and it's good to know that following a petition and Hollie's father pleading on behalf of their entire family, Facebook finally agreed to remove the offending pictures from the memorialized profile. On the less positive side: Why did you have to wait so long, Facebook, and be persuaded by signatures from 11,000 people? I think that in such a clear case, the mere facts, along with the request from the grieving family, should have been enough. 


Print screen, Facebook, Hollie's grandmother 
Asking on Oct. 29th to sign the petition:
"Facebook is upsetting us when looking at our granddaughter photos"



Print screen, Facebook, Hollie's father
Asking on Oct. 28th to sign the petition:
"I am Hollie's dad and want to the photos removed to stop my family and Hollie's friends from the pain of seeing them"


November 12th update: 
Facebook's official statement for finally taking the pictures down from Hollie Gazzard's profile is:  
"Through our memorialisation policies we aim to help families find ways to remember and celebrate their loved ones on Facebook whilst respecting the privacy of the deceased. In this case we received a report of ​​copyright infringement, and we removed the reported content in response to that report".
Reading their answer makes me feel like pulling my hair out by the roots with frustration. They really think the only valid reason for removing pictures of the murdered with her murderer is because of "​copyright infringement"? Seriously? 
  1. If this was the case, why haven't they removed the pictures earlier? Why did her family have to beg AND get signatures from some 11,000 people for them to do that? 
  2. This seems like such a clear case that I simply can't understand my Facebook is so anxious to cling to their "memorization policy" in this matter: whom do they think could possibly benefit from seeing pictures of a 20 years old woman with the man who stabbed her 14 times at her work and then was sentenced to life in prison? If they wish to adhere to the wishes of the deceased, we can very much assume she would not wish to keep pictures of herself with her murderer. Since she's not here to see the pics and we can't ask for her opinion, let's take the next step in this line of thought. The memorialized profile is aimed at being the focal point of remembering the deceased, correct? It's where everyone flocks to to post memories, pictures, stories, videos, and to flick through past posts, pictures and videos, reminiscing. Coming across pictures of the murdered with her murderer while flicking through past memories is a sure way to turn the people who love her AWAY from her profile, as running across these pics is a sure way to cause pain and distress. So the memorialized profile isn't fulfilling its purpose. Instead of being a magnet, it repels. Her family has repeatedly asked Facebook to remove these pictures - how can this not be a valid enough reason in itself? Whom is it serving, that Facebook insisted on keeping the pics up for so long? The setting of these pics weren't public anyway, it was only her family and friends who could see them. If they at least had the sensitivity to say "We realize we were wrong in not taking the pictures down earlier and we apologize for any pain and distress we caused her loved ones by doing so" - but no, they say there was a "​copyright infringement". 
  3. They say they aim to "​celebrate deceased loved ones on Facebook through memorialization" - how can you put "celebration" and "pictures of her and her murderer together" in the same sentence? 
  4. They say they wish to "respect the privacy of the deceased" - how does deleting pictures of her and her murdered violate her privacy? 

 I just don't get this. 

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