Officials press Facebook over Newtown postings

February 25, 2013 - 5:30 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Facebook offered assurances Monday that the social media site is removing some posts and so-called tribute pages related to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting over concerns they're being used to exploit the tragedy.

Echoing complaints already brought by some Sandy Hook families and state officials, Connecticut's two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty requested the removal of offending pages in a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg Monday morning.

The lawmakers said some pages purportedly set up to honor the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown have been used to exploit or harass the victims' families and could be used as vehicles for financial fraud. State Attorney General George Jepsen said his office raised similar concerns with Facebook over the weekend.

Jodi Seth, a Facebook spokesperson, said in a statement that the company has been working closely since December with Jepsen's office, the families and their representatives to respond quickly to concerns with dedicated staff handling complaints over Sandy Hook pages.

Seth said Facebook wants to respond quickly "while also recognizing that people across the country want to express grief for a terrible national tragedy."

"We will continue to be vigilant," Seth said in a statement.

In Monday's letter, the lawmakers many pages still online appear to violate Facebook's own terms of use, which prohibit users from creating accounts for anyone other than themselves. They said more than 100 pages are dedicated just one of the victims, slain teacher Victoria Soto.

Some of those contain postings from conspiracy theorists who claim the shootings were staged, and that Soto and others were actors.

"Certainly there have been many, too many, of these pages that are intimidating or harassing or exploitive," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. "I'm pleased that Facebook has responded positively."

The lawmakers said Facebook also had received complaints from Soto's family and the family of Kaitlin Roig, a first-grade teacher who survived the shooting and has been credited with saving the lives of her students by locking the class in a small bathroom and barricading the door.

A Facebook page titled "Kaitlin Roig is a Hero" contains numerous well-wishes but also prompted abusive posts, such as one that reads, "Congratulations Kaitlin or whatever your name is.. Now you're famous and got to meet the 'President.' You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

That post was still on the page Monday afternoon.

Jepsen said his office spoke with Facebook officials about the problem on Saturday and the site promised to continue to work with his office to remove postings designed to harass or intimidate the victims or their families.

"Facebook also will treat pages being used unlawfully to solicit donations in the names of the Newtown victims similarly," Jepsen said.

There has been one fraud arrest already connected to a Sandy Hook Facebook posting.

Nouel Alba, a 37-year-old New York City woman, is accused of using her Facebook account, telephone calls and text messages to seek donations for what she called a "funeral fund." She allegedly told one donor that she had to enter the scene of the mass shooting in Newtown to identify her nephew, according to the criminal complaint. Jury selection in her trial has been scheduled for March.

Blumenthal said they are not asking that all Sandy Hook-related tribute or donation pages be removed, just the ones that are not authorized by the families.

"Facebook needs to follow its own rules, and enforce those rules," Blumenthal said.