Instagram’s dark side: Grisly photos of teen’s murder spread on social media

Instagram pulled down an account that appears to belong to a man suspected of killing a 17-year-old girl in New York after he posted a photo of her bloody body on the platform. 


NurPhoto via Techhnews

A man suspected of killing a 17-year-old girl in Utica, New York, on Sunday posted photos of her bloody body to Instagram, Discord and other sites, the latest example of the challenge social networks face in combating violence on their platforms.

Facebook-owned Instagram said it pulled down a photo on Sunday that was posted to the account @yesjuliet, which appears to belong to suspect Brandon Andrew Clark who was charged Monday with second-degree murder. The photo showed what police identified as the body of the victim, Bianca Devins. On Monday, the tech giant removed the suspect’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. It also “hashed” the image so that it couldn’t be reposted. A hash is a digital fingerprint that social networks use to prevent copies of offensive content from being re-uploaded.

“We are taking every measure to remove this content from our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. 

bdevins

Bianca Devins, 17, was killed in Utica, New York, on Sunday. Photos of Devins’ bloody body were posted on social media. 


Provided by the Williams-Devins family

The posting of the photo and its spread to other websites comes as social networks grapple with the dark sides of their services. In March, a gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, livestreamed part of the murders on Facebook Live. The social network, which has rules against promoting crimes, was criticized for not pulling down the video before it spread to other sites.

In 2013, a South Florida man dubbed the “Facebook killer,” shot and killed his wife and posted a photo of her corpse on Facebook. In 2016, a Texas man suspected of killing his girlfriend posted an image of her dead body on her Facebook account. 

Instagram appears to have curtailed the spread of the Utica photo on the social network, though it’s still available on some fringe messaging boards and on the photo-sharing site. The photo originally appeared on Instagram Stories, a feature that lets users share images and video that vanish in 24 hours. The company declined to say how many views or comments the photo got before it was pulled down. Instagram didn’t say how it learned of the image, but said it’s pulling down accounts that impersonated the suspect. It also blocked the hashtag #yesjuliet because users attempted to post the photo.

To drown out any images of Devins’ body, Instagram users have been tagging the teen in photos of pink clouds, puppies, flowers and joyful cartoons. 

Utica Police Sgt. Michael Curley said photos of Devins’ body were shared first on Discord, a chat service used by gamers. Discord members alerted police about the photos. They were also posted on ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, he said. Law enforcement contacted all three companies to get the photos removed. 

A video that claims to show Devins’ death, which was shared on Google-owned YouTube, isn’t authentic, Curley said. A YouTube spokeswoman said it had removed the video though others claiming to be of the killing were still available on the service. 

A Discord “server” that included an photo of Devins’ body is no longer accessible to the public. A Discord server is similar to a Facebook group.

“We are working closely with law enforcement to provide any assistance we can,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement. 

Snapchat didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Oneida County Dispatch received numerous calls around 7:20 a.m. ET on Sunday about a man who had posted on social media that he had killed his girlfriend and was trying to harm himself, Curley said. The 21-year-old suspect then called 911 himself and police said they were able to track his location through the call. When police arrived, Devins was already dead and Clark started to harm himself outside of an SUV, police said. After trying to injure himself, the suspect lied down on a tarp and pulled out a cell phone, police said. Devins’ body was underneath the tarp.

“It was at this time that is believed that the male took self-photographs of himself laying across the deceased female,” police said in the press release. 

Clark was transported to a hospital and was treated for his injuries, police said.  

The two had met through Instagram two months ago before their relationship “progressed into a personally intimate one,” according to police. 

Police said that Clark used a knife to slash Devins’ neck and an autopsy will be conducted. The two went to a concert together on Saturday in New York City but got into an argument at the venue before arriving back to Utica, police said.

“These people are looking for notoriety,” Curley said. “It’s certainly a way for them to carry out some gruesome behavior or get their name out.”

Techhnews’s Oscar Gonzalez contributed to this report. 

Originally published July 15, 4:03 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:44 p.m.: Adds charges filed against suspect.
Update, 5:00 p.m.: Adds comment from YouTube.

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