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Police demand Facebook ban pages attacking lead suspect in Australian murder case
“It’s not for Facebook pages or anyone else to be taking justice into their own hands,” declared Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, after the public rallied around Facebook posts condemning suspect Adrian Ernest Bayley.
In the court of Facebook, Adrian Ernest Bayley is already guilty of murder.
More than 44,000 people have liked a page called Publicly hang Adrian Ernest Bayley. Another 400, meanwhile, are fans of Adrian Ernest Bayley is a dog, whose creator invites you to “post whatever you want about this filthy piece of shit.”
Bayley, 41, is the lead suspect in the murder of 29-year-old Jillian Meagher, an Irish national living in Melbourne who was raped and killed early in the morning on Sep. 22. Facebook has angered Australian police by refusing take down those pages and four others, making social media a centerpiece in a case that has shocked and enthralled Australia.
Police were initially delighted with the role Facebook and other social media platforms played in the case. After Meagher went missing on Sept. 22, more than 120,000 people joined a page dedicated to finding her.
“Though social media’s been enormously helpful in this investigation, it’s also been very, very difficult,” Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said at a press conference.
“We’ve all got a social responsibility,” he added. “Facebook is part of our community and I would have thought that [removing the pages] would have only been reasonable. We’ve got to remember that no matter how horrible this crime is, this gentleman has got to be afforded a fair trial. It’s not for Facebook pages or anyone else to be taking justice into their own hands.”
Even Jillian’s brother, Tom Meagher, warned that “negative comments on social media may hurt the proceedings.”
Facebook explicitly bans pornography, hate speech, threats, graphic violence, bullying, and spam. Its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, meanwhile, prohibits users from posting content or taking any action on Facebook “that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.”
Removing pages certainly isn’t unprecedented. In August, the company removed a controversial page that supported two alleged cop killers in Philadelphia, accompanied by gruesome photos of the maimed and murdered police officers.
When pressed by Australia’s ABC News, Facebook declined to comment on the specific case, though it did issue the following statement:
“We take our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities very seriously and react quickly to remove reported content that violates our policies and also to restrict access to content in a country, where we are advised that it violates local law.”
The pages may very well violate local law. In the United States, gag orders can only extend to people involved in a trial, but not the news media. Not so in Australia. The country’s contempt of court laws restricts media from publishing material that might influence an ongoing or forthcoming trial. The goal is to prevent potential jurors or others from being influenced by biased media—the so-called “trial by newspaper.”
But while Facebook waits to make a move, at least one of pages is voluntarily shutting its doors after lengthy and vicious debates in its comments sections.
“I’m shutting this and the other page down,” wrote the anonymous creator of Adrian Ernest Bayley is a dog. (It’s unclear which “other page” he or she is referring to.)
“But for those who have soooo much faith in our judicial system just remember that this putrid piece of flesh that is the worst excuse for a human, is a repeat offender both violently and sexually, whether he is put behind bars or let back on the street he will be the one living in fear, looking over his shoulder for the rest of his short future.”
A story in The Australian did not report any violent or sexual crimes in Bayley’s past, though it did note that he frequented prostitutes and had suffered an “emotionally and physically abusive childhood, and a violent and fractured relationship with his father for many years.”
His real, off-Facebook trial begins in January.
Photo via YouTube
Kevin Morris is a veteran web reporter and editor who specializes in longform journalism. He led the Daily Dot’s esports vertical and, following its acquisition by GAMURS in late 2016, launched Dot Esports, where he serves as the site’s editor-in-chief.