Imagine searching online for the name of a deceased family member and being hit in the face with gruesome crime scene photographs of his or her dead and decomposing body. For the loved ones of Suzette Trouten or Izabella Lewicka — two of at least eight victims of Kansas-based serial killer John Robinson — this nightmare is a reality. Grisly photos of the murdered women found stuffed and floating in the ooze of 55-gallon barrels now grace the pages of Facebook.
Facebook is also where you can find on sale a notorious killer’s sexually offensive artwork. A psychopathic meth addict named Jeremy Bryan Jones, a confessed serial killer suspected of murdering at least 17 people, features Jesus Christ as the main player in pornographic drawings.
It’s the latest chapter in a growing business I wrote about a few weeks ago called “Murderabilia” — and Facebook is now the newest marketplace.
Murder buffs befriend infamous incarcerated killers and get them to send personal items — anything from locks of their hair or fingernail clippings to handwritten letters and autographed doodles. The sickening souvenirs are then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Naturally, the more outrageous the item, the more the seller can charge and the bigger the potential kickback to the killer.
Ebay got wise and banned murderabilia sales after being repeatedly urged to do so by Andy Kahan, victim advocate for the city of Houston. Initially, Kahan (who coined the phrase “murderabilia”) discovered that four of the major sellers of this sick memorabilia then turned to Facebook — the world’s most prominent social media meeting place — to hawk their wares. Since then, even more murderabilia pages have cropped up on Facebook. Most surprising, Facebook says it is OK with it.
(I choose not to name the Facebook murderabilia pages because I don’t want to give them any publicity.)
Why items connected to high-profile murderers and serial killers command big bucks is beyond me — but they do. Why Facebook allows such dreadfully shocking items to be displayed on its site is also beyond me — but it does. A Philadelphia newspaper reporter asked Facebook about it recently, and a corporate spokesperson replied, “While some content may be vulgar and distasteful, distasteful content on its own does not violate our policy.”
Really? Is this really in line with Facebook’s mission statement to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Uh, I don’t think so, and no tortured corporate statement about long-standing “policy” can convince me otherwise.
Offering for sale gut-wrenching crime scene photos of dead bodies, a $1,200 handwritten letter from Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men in the late 1980s, or the first prison badge worn by the D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo goes precisely nowhere toward making the world a better, “more open” place.
These sales simply glorify the killers, giving them continued prominence and, in many cases, earning them gifts from the sellers. The convicts can get money deposited in their prison accounts, coveted magazine subscriptions or regular deliveries of treats, among other perks. This isn’t free enterprise at work. It is exploitation of grieving family members, who are shocked to learn that the person who murdered their loved one has items showcased for sale on such a popular website. Disgusting.
Dan Levey, executive director of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, wrote to Facebook at the end of May and asked the social network to walk a mile in his shoes, to understand the pain survivors feel when they stumble across photos of their dismembered, tortured or raped relative, or personal possessions of their killer, posted online.
“We want to express our anger at the use of Facebook as a way to glamorize and promote murderers and the items that others may promote or sell,” Levey wrote. “We sincerely hope you will consider our concerns and send a message that Facebook pages will not be used to promote for-profit items produced by murderers.”
Levey told me he has yet to receive a reply from Facebook.
Kahan, who has dedicated more than a decade to working with victims’ rights groups and acts as their watchdog, was the first to write to Facebook asking that the offensive pages be removed.
“I am well aware of First Amendment rights, and I am a firm believer in free enterprise, but from my perspective this is where the buck needs to stop,” Kahan wrote in an email on May 21. “No one should be able to rob, rape and murder, and then turn around and profit off their criminal conduct.”
More than a month passed, and finally Kahan was informed the Facebook team was “looking into” his complaint. More weeks went by, and it wasn’t until early July that Facebook’s Law Enforcement Response Team asked Kahan to send them a link to the pages in question. That’s the last he’s heard.
During all that time, the families of Suzette Trouten, Izabella Lewicka and all the victims of convicted killers Wuornos, Malvo and all the others promoted on the Facebook pages continued to mourn. Their reopened wounds of grief have been waved away by Facebook as a simple “policy” decision — as if there were no need for morality or ethics in this situation.
In Kahan’s letter to Facebook, he asked spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana point-blank, “Is this the type of so-called industry that Facebook wants to be associated with?”
Apparently Facebook’s answer is yes.
If you are not happy with Facebook’s policy position on this, may I suggest you write to Facebook Inc. c/o Elisabeth Diana, 1601 S. California Ave., Palo Alto 94304 and express your displeasure?
I think it’s time for social media to act in a socially responsible way.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.