Facebook, Twitter ordered to delete alleged photos of child-killers

Police have ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Google to delete photos that allegedly show two men who killed a toddler in 1990.

The attorney general of England and Wales plans to prosecute those who shared purported photos of Jon Venables, who, along with classmate Robert Thompson, killed 2-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool in 1993. The pair were released on license in 2001 and given new identities. 

A worldwide injunction was issued, banning the publication of any information that might identify Venables, now 30, or Thompson. In recent weeks, photos supposedly depicting Venables and Thompson surfaced on Twitter and spread elsewhere on the Web. The attorney general suggested that at least some of the photos were not of Venables, and the mixup could lead to innocent men being put in danger.

The attorney general is also prosecuting those who did not actually share photos of Venables, but identified photos of others as such.

An attorney general’s office spokesperson said police asked Twitter, Facebook, and Google to “assist with the removal of material in breach of the terms of the order,” according to the Guardian, and noted the process of deleting the images was ongoing.

Twitter spoke on the issue during a home affairs select committee hearing at the House of Commons Tuesday. Twitter’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Sinéad McSweeney, noted the company works with law enforcement officials in the U.K. and takes appropriate steps to deal with illegal content when alerted.

Appearing alongside Google and Facebook officials, McSweeney added that Twitter can’t be expected to proactively monitor every tweet posted by its more than 200 million users. She also would not be drawn into commenting on individual accounts.

In the last six months of 2012, Twitter received 42 requests from governments (and valid complaints from other “authorized reporters”) for the removal of illegal content. It withheld tweets and accounts in just two of those cases.

Photo of Dominic Grieve by Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr

Kris Holt

Kris Holt

Based in Montreal, Kris Holt has been writing about technology and web culture since 2010. He writes for Engadget and Tech News World, and his byline has also appeared in Paste, Salon, International Business Times, Mashable, and elsewhere.