Caroline Wimmer Photo Lawsuit Would Destroy Facebook

Jeanne Sager

Facebook photo uploadFacebook users beware. If the parents of Caroline Wimmer, a woman whose dead body made the rounds on the site last year, have their way, they will ruin social media as we know it. Ronald and Marti Wimmer are suing Facebook for allowing an EMT to upload a photo of her body and then allowing other people to view it. 

And while they're at it, they want Facebook to turn over the names of everyone who viewed the photo. Hold on just a darned minute! The Wimmers are grieving the death of their daughter, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2009. I feel awful for them. But that doesn't make the whole of Facebook-land responsible.

The Wimmers are pissed off that the man who uploaded the photos, an EMT named Mark Musarella who snapped her photo when he responded to her grisly murder scene, didn't get punished the way they wanted for his actions. Musarella got 200 hours of community service, and he was stripped of his EMT license. The Wimmers say that's not enough.

I'd tend to disagree with them. What he did was really cruel, but he lost his livelihood for it. That seems like a punishment befitting the crime. But let's say it could be harsher. Who should get that stiffer penalty? Facebook? Random people who got a link that said "click here" and had the audacity to do so? Or the guy who actually snapped the photo of a dead woman and hit upload?

Musarella is the monster here. But the Wimmers aren't satisfied with going after him. They want to go after Facebook and after every unwitting victim who clicked on a message from a friend -- a friend with a sick, twisted sense of humor, sure, but a friend all the same. If you saw the photo, it doesn't matter to Ronald and Marti Wimmer that you didn't create it. Their lawsuit is asking for your name as though you did.

The problem with their lawsuit goes to the very root of how social media works. One person shares information, and it goes out to the masses. As it stands, the person who initially shares said information -- or photo -- is less important than who it reaches. But that doesn't make that person any less culpable. It's like yelling fire in a crowded theater. The person who screamed it is still ultimately responsible for the people trampled in the mad dash to get out ... even if it wasn't their feet doing the trampling. Only on the Internet, it's usually harder to track down, and there are a lot more people caught in the crush.

Treating the Internet hordes like they're responsible for viewing information provided by someone else is the worst way of killing the messenger. People who viewed Caroline Wimmer's photo didn't create it. They didn't place it on the Internet. They didn't commit the ultimate (ethical) sin against her body.

But her parents' lawsuit will change the Internet if they win. You think the Facebook censors are overzealous now, rooting around in moms' profiles looking for breastfeeding photos? Just wait until a successful lawsuit makes them responsible for all user-generated content. You'll wait days for someone to approve your photos on your own page. That is if they survive at all. 

Social media is all about allowing users to drive the formation of websites. It's to spread information. It's to make people share with one another and generate "clicks," to create a web presence that advertisers will be interested in. But if the Wimmers get the names of the clickers, that will be gone too. No one will click on a "use at your own peril" site (more so than it already is with the threat of viruses). The content will disappear, and so will the users. All because Ronald and Marti Wimmer were looking for someone else to blame.

Are the Wimmers in the right here?


Image via Facebook

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