Two weeks ago, Facebook temporarily deactivated the account of a black woman named Korryn Gaines who was involved in a police standoff. She was posting videos of the encounter to her Facebook profile while it was happening, and both the site and police said they removed her content to help the negotiation process. However, the standoff became a national discussion when Gaines was ultimately shot and killed by police — and her videos weren’t there to show what happened.
Now, activists are outraged again this week after officials made statements in the wake of the shooting that referenced a “law enforcement portal” on Facebook that allows police to seek Facebook’s collaboration in emergencies. A Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept that approved agencies can use this tool when there is a “matter involving imminent harm to a child or risk of death or serious physical injury to any person,” but some experts believe that removing an account is an ethical gray area.
“There’s a particular risk when social media takes down video that may represent the only point of view besides that of law enforcement,” Lee Rowland, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept. “In general, social media companies should be very hesitant to comply with law enforcement demands in a manner that might circumvent a citizen’s first amendment right to record interactions with the police.”
Even though Facebook’s connection with law enforcement makes sense in dire situations like this, both sides need to be open and honest about the relationship if users are going to fully trust them.