In a perfect world, legislators wouldn't propose a law that would make it a crime for public servants on duty to take unauthorized pictures or videos of crime scenes and circulate them … you know, on Facebook or anywhere else on the Internet. People who work in emergency or medical field would get that such exploitation is wrong.
That isn't the world we live in.
Case in point: Mark Musarella, an emergency worker who posted photos on Facebook of a beaten and strangled woman, was recently sentenced to 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty in December to misdemeanor official misconduct and disorderly conduct. The 48-year-old retired New York Police Department detective also lost his emergency medical technician license.
"Democratic and Republican legislators, joined by the mother of victim Caroline Wimmer, said Wednesday the posting compounded the pain and horror," the AP reported. Proposing that such behavior become a felony, Staten Island lawmakers said such pictures should be a felony, punishable by one to four years in jail.
"What if it was your daughter?" said the victim's mother, Martha Wimmer. "It could be a fire. It could be a car accident." The Wimmers also named Facebook — along with the medical technician — in a recent civil lawsuit.
The parents' pain is more than understandable, but laws and lawsuits may not be the answer. Education and awareness may help where rules have so far failed.
Facebook didn't invent irresponsible emergency workers, let alone hospital employees who take photos in emergency rooms and post them on the Internet, another ongoing issue. The social network cooperated fully with authorities and has no copies of the picture on its site or servers, a Facebook spokesperson told AP, in keeping with Facebook's track record of working with law enforcement officials and removing offensive content.
What's more, most any middle school student could have pointed you to disturbing medical or crime paparazzi images floating around in cyberspace long before Facebook became a significant platform for such behavior.
The most notorious offense occurred in 2006 (before Facebook's preeminence). Photos of an 18-year-old woman killed in a car accident went viral after two highway patrolmen shared them via email. The young woman's family suffered years of torment from morbid pranksters who spread the photos, posted them on a MySpace memorial page and sent emails that either contained the photos or derogatory comments.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that four staff members were fired and three disciplined at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. after photos of a victim with multiple-stab wounds showed up on Facebook — despite federal laws and growing zero-tolerance hospital policies.
As we wrote then, the Internet is a ubiquitous presence in our lives, but our impulse control still isn't up to speed. Full-grown adults still post stuff on social networks that get them fired, divorced or arrested. If people don't have the foresight to consider how their actions affect their own well-being, how likely are they to consider others?
Just as driving instructors need to teach students not to text, "Don't Be Taking Photos of Patients or Victims and Posting Them on Facebook 101," should be a required course for every emergency worker — a course to be passed yearly.
More on Facebook:
- Parents sue Facebook over photos of daughter's corpse
- Soldiers' racist postings on Facebook investigated
- Facebook vandal jailed for defacing dead kids' pages