A victim, her picture and Facebook

A victim, her picture and Facebook

A victim, her picture and Facebook

Mark Musarella (left) posted a picture of Caroline Wimmer, who was murdered in her apartment on Staten Island, on his Facebook account.

“They’re of me and my friends when we go out,” Criscitiello said. “My son’s graduation. My husband’s family reunion. A vacation we went on to Lake Wallenpaupack. I never thought they would be able to sell those pictures or give those pictures to someone else.”

In 2009, Criscitiello got a crashing introduction to the world of intellectual property, as the pictures and content on Facebook are called.

On March 30, her sister Caroline Wimmer, 26, was murdered in her apartment on Staten Island. A month later, a reporter with The Staten Island Advance called the family home with news that a picture of her dead body had been posted on the Facebook page of one Mark Musarella.

As it turned out, Musarella, a retired police officer, was one of the emergency medical technicians who responded to the apartment when Wimmer’s parents discovered her body and dialled 911.

He had taken at least one picture of her, and then uploaded it to his account. One of his cyberfriends informed the hospital where he worked of the picture, and he was immediately fired.

“I went right on Facebook, but by the time I got there, his account had been deleted,” Criscitiello, 34, said.

The picture of Caroline Wimmer in death showed she had been beaten and strangled with an electric cord. The family reeled.

Facebook has rules that bar precisely these kinds of pictures, but they generally are enforced only when members complain about them, not through advance screening done by the company. Photos come in by the millions every month; Facebook says its users share 30 billion pieces of content every month. They also grant the company nearly unlimited rights to use that data any way it wants.

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 Musarella, who ultimately pleaded guilty to official misconduct.

In the months after Wimmer’s death, her family hired a lawyer, Ravi Batra, who wanted to find out what had happened to the picture while it was visible on Facebook; who had viewed or downloaded it; and what had become of it after the medic’s account was closed.

Batra said he had asked a lawyer for Facebook if the picture still existed on a server or was stored somewhere else. According to Batra, the lawyer replied: “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.”

In a letter to Batra, Facebook said it would provide the Wimmers with certain details about the activity on Musarella’s account, but only if he—the very man who had taken the picture of the dead woman and posted it for his world to see—signed a consent form. Facebook helpfully sent along a copy of the standard form.

“They told us to get Mark Musarella’s permission,” Criscitiello said on Tuesday.

Suit filed

As was widely reported, the Wimmer family announced on Monday that it had filed suit against Facebook. “We are not suing Facebook for money,” Criscitiello said. “We’re suing them to change things, so no other family members of a murdered person have to experience these things.” A Facebook spokesman said on Tuesday that the company was horrified by what had happened with Wimmer’s photo, and he promised that it did not keep any copies of her picture in any of its databanks. The spokesman, Barry Schnitt, said that when a photograph was deleted by a user, it was removed from all of the company’s servers within 90 days.

Why wasn’t this told to the Wimmer family?

“It sounds like there may have been some miscommunication back in 2009,” Schnitt said. “It was never our intention to suggest that we wouldn’t cooperate. In fact, we worked with authorities to convict the man who posted the photograph. We’d be happy to share the results of our investigation with the parents if they would like.” They certainly would, said Chrissy Criscitiello. “Everyone is all about technology,” she said. “What about morals?”

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