What Should Facebook Do About All Of These James Holmes Pages?

    July 27, 2012
    Josh Wolford

I’m not really sure of my purpose behind reporting this. And I’m not really sure what this says about the internet, Facebook, people in general – if anything. Maybe it says something about our culture, and how criminals are made into celebrities by the 24-hour news cycle. Maybe it’s merely a commentary on just how large of a tragedy the Aurora theater shooting really was – that so many people would feel compelled to do this on a public forum like Facebook.

Maybe it’s because it can compel a vigorous debate on free speech and distasteful speech, and what Facebook should do in situations like this.

What should Facebook do about the multitude of pro-James Holmes pages on the site? Should Facebook be in the business of censoring impertinent speech? Let us know in the comments.

Truly, I’m not sure I can flesh out a deeper meaning to this. All I can say is whoa – there are already an epic amount of James Holmes-related Facebook pages.

(James Holmes, as you’re probably well-aware, is the alleged perpetrator of last weekend’s brutal theater massacre at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. His actions left 12 dead and 58 injured.)

A large majority of the pages that have popped up are simply “public figure” pages. They typically have anywhere between a few dozen and a few hundred “likes.”

Of course, there are also plenty of “James Holmes must rot in hell” and “James Holmes needs to be decapitated” pages.

But some James Holmes-related pages are insensitive in a typical internet-troll fashion. You’ve got your “Holmes, James Holmes” page, your “James Holmes fan club,” your “Jame’s Holmes didn’t really do anything” page. Ultimate troll award goes to the person who created the “James Holmes – Probably not such a bad guy” page.

Their only post goes like this:

James Holmes- Probably not such a bad guy

Learn before you judge; This guy is probably a brilliant young man who had motives for his actions beyond the conventional sense of right and wrong. Just my opinion, but what if, as a discouraged genius who couldn’t find work decided to kill a bunch of stupid people watching a new Batman movie? I truly hope he gets the chance to speak his mind, lest someone else need to acquire their own 15 minutes

Then, you have the newly formed page “James Holmes is a true hero” where they say they are “here to praise our dark knight.” Here’s the photo that stands as that page’s profile pic:

+50 for humanity that it only has 1 “like” so far.

I counted over 150 James Holmes-related pages that have already popped up since Friday.

Facebook has responded to these pages.

“While incredibly distasteful, [it] doesn’t violate our terms,” they said.

Indeed, Facebook’s Statement on Rights and Responsibilities clearly states that Facebook users will not “bully, intimidate, or harass” any other user. It also forbids content that is “hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” So, unless the James Holmes Facebook pages begin posting content that falls into any of those categories, Facebook will keep out of it.

“We are heartened that the vast majority of activity on Facebook surrounding this tragedy has been focused on helping the community cope and beginning the healing process in the wake of these events,” said Facebook.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Facebook has felt the heat over controversial content on the site. Back in March of 2011, Facebook removed a page called “Third Palestinian Intifada” after a load of pressure from outside groups. In that case, Facebook took a while in removing the page, even though ti clearly called for a violent uprising against a specific ethnic group.

In August, a post on the Fox News Facebook page concerning an appearance by Blair Scott of American Atheists on the station was inundated with hateful and often violent comments against atheists. The comments included death threats, for instance “Shoot them, shoot to kill” and “Nail them to that cross then display it.” We asked whether or not these kinds of comments were free speech or if Facebook had an obligation to pull them as they incited violence. Fox News ended up deleting the comments before Facebook had to make a decision either way.

And there continues to be an ongoing battle with breastfeeding activists over Facebook’s removal of many images of mothers feeding their babies.

So, one could argue that Facebook will remove a post show a natural act because of a hint of a nipple is showing, but will allow other users to upload photoshopped images of President Obama pinning the medal of honor on James Holmes to their pages.

Then again, the pages that have popped up in praise and support of James Holmes and his actions in Aurora last Friday aren’t really violating any of Facebook’s terms. And it is people’s right to be impertinent, as long as it doesn’t translate into illegal. Is it really Facebook’s job to police disrespectful, distasteful, and otherwise unpopular content? Or does Facebook make the right decision when they allow all kinds of speech to exist on the site? Let us know what you think in the comments.