Ronald and Martha Wimmer are suing Facebook after a horrific photo of their 26-year-old daughter Caroline Wimmer's dead body was posted on Facebook. They say they aren't looking for money, just the assurance that the picture has been destroyed. Now that a lawsuit has been filed, Facebook has suddenly become very cooperative.
Ronald and Martha found their daughter's body in March 2009 after she was strangled with a hair-dryer cord in Staten Island, New York, CNN reports. Later they found out that Mark Musarella, the paramedic who responded to their 911 call, had taken a cell phone picture of Caroline's body and posted it on Facebook. According to the New York Times, a friend reported the photo to the hospital where Musarella worked and he was immediately fired. Musarella's account was deleted, but now the Wimmers are suing him and Facebook (along with their daughter's convicted murderer, the city of New York, and various other people connected to the case).
The couple are demanding that Facebook hand over copies of the image stored in its servers and identify who may have downloaded it. However, Facebook isn't legally responsible for what is posted on the site. The Times explains:
A 1996 federal law, the Communications Decency Act, gives online service providers broad protection from any responsibility for what people say or do on their sites. It is thought to be a cornerstone of free speech on the Web. It also protected Facebook from legal responsibility for the grotesque act of Mr. Musarella, who ultimatelypleaded guilty to official misconduct.
On Monday, a Facebook spokesman said, "The case is without merit ... We will fight it vigorously." But the company changed its tune overnight. The Wimmers' lawyer claims that when he initially asked Facebook if the picture was still stored on a server, and a lawyer responded: "I can't answer that. I can't tell you how many places they put it. All I can tell you is that it's not available through the member accounts." On Tuesday, a Facebook spokesman said the company was horrified by the incident and described their previous statements to the Wimmers as a "miscommunication." He claimed that when a user deletes a photo it's removed from the servers within 90 days, so there is no photo to hand over.
Facebook has offered to share the results of its investigation with the Wimmers and depending on whether or not they're satisfied, the company may be able to avoid a more complex case involving information on users' activities. The Wimmers say they're still fighting to make sure no other families have to go through what they did and are supporting new legislation to increase the penalty for a public worker who publishes crime scene photos. It's disturbing that we even need to have that law, but apparently some people can stoop that low.