Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic and Father of Slain Journalist File FTC Complaint to Remove Violent Murder Videos from YouTube

February 20, 2020

YouTube deceives consumers by refusing to take down videos that violate its own Terms of Service, Andy Parker and Georgetown Law clinic allege

WASHINGTON – In a complaint filed today with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), gun-safety advocate Andy Parker and Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic allege that YouTube unlawfully deceives consumers by allowing violent murder videos to spread and persist on its platform in clear violation of its Terms of Service.

The complaint is the first of its kind to challenge the widespread circulation on YouTube of murder videos and conspiracy theories meant to harass those affected by acts of violence.

While working as a local news reporter for WDBJ in Roanoke, Va. in 2015, Parker’s daughter, Alison, was shot to death on live television. Today, countless videos of Alison’s murder are widely accessible on YouTube. 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. Although these videos clearly violate YouTube’s ban on violent content, YouTube continues to refuse to enforce its own rules and remove them from the site, the complaint says.

“After years of urging YouTube to remove videos of my daughter’s murder in accordance with its own rules, the only responses I’ve received are empty promises and outright lies,” Parker said. “If YouTube won’t take this issue seriously, the FTC must act to rein in its outrageous behavior and hold the company legally accountable.”

Despite repeated requests that specific videos of Alison’s murder be removed, including many that have been on the site for years, YouTube has refused to act because of the money that the video traffic brings in, Parker alleges. In response, Parker and Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic today filed an FTC complaint arguing that by failing to remove murder videos from its website and adhere to its own Terms of Service, YouTube is actively engaged in consumer deception under the FTC Act. The complaint alleges this deception is widespread; in addition to videos of Alison’s murder, YouTube is rife with murder and conspiracy videos, including:

  • Conspiracy videos harassing the parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook
  • Raw images and video footage of teen suicides and murders, sometimes even including content that sexualizes underage girls
  • Videos showing people committing murder or being shot and killed while livestreaming to Facebook and other social media platforms

“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. “The FTC must act to ensure that YouTube follows its own rules and ends its practice of callously subjecting families like Mr. Parker’s to trauma and harassment.”

Georgetown’s requested FTC action would require YouTube to change its lax content monitoring process or be subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. This action follows a 2018 FTC complaint by another Georgetown Law clinic, its communications and technology clinic, which resulted in $170 million in fines against Google, which owns YouTube.

Removing this content from YouTube would ensure that countless people like Parker who have suffered unimaginable loss are no longer subject to torment and abuse from conspiracy theorists and are no longer required to constantly police the internet to secure the removal of violent content involving their own family members.

About Andy Parker: After his daughter’s murder, Andy Parker vowed to do “whatever it takes” to end gun violence in America. Today, he fights to preserve the dignity of victims of violence and their families and to implement life-saving “gun sense” policies. Parker has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, ABC, and NBC, as well as numerous international media outlets. He has been a contributor to the Huffington Post, Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, USA Today, and New York Daily News. He is the author of For Alison: The Murder of a Young Journalist and a Father’s Fight for Gun Safety. Parker was recently named to the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation advisory board.

About Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic: Georgetown University Law Center’s Civil Rights Clinic operates as a small not-for-profit law firm, representing clients who have suffered from discrimination, harassment, or other rights violations.
The full complaint is available here.

The full complaint is available here.

Georgetown University Law Center is a global leader in legal education based in the heart of the U.S. capital.  As the nation’s largest law school, Georgetown Law offers students an unmatched breadth and depth of academic opportunities taught by a world-class faculty of celebrated theorists and leading legal practitioners. Second to none in experiential education, the Law Center’s numerous clinics are deeply woven into the Washington, D.C., landscape. Close to 20 centers and institutes forge cutting-edge research and policy resources across fields including health, the environment, human rights, technology, national security and international economics. Georgetown Law equips students to succeed in a rapidly evolving legal environment and to make a profound difference in the world, guided by the school’s motto, “Law is but the means, justice is the end.”