Relatives of victims from five terrorist attacks in Israel, one as recent as this past March, are suing Facebook for “having knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas,” reports Reuters.
The lawsuit represents four Israeli-American dual citizens and one visiting U.S. citizen and was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The filing details the deaths of all five individuals and includes details into how Facebook was used to communicate or coordinate attacks. Other examples include screenshots of Palestinian propaganda supporting the killing of Israeli soldiers.
According to Reuters, Darshan-Leitner, the law firm presenting the case, also filed for an injunction against Facebook in October to stop the social media giant from housing ‘Palestinian incitement.” However, Hamas reps say that Israeli soldiers equally celebrate the deaths of Palestinians on Facebook as well. We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment.
[Update] Facebook has responded to our request:
We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook. We have a set of Community Standards to help people understand what is allowed on Facebook, and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.
This isn’t the first time that grieving families have sued Silicon Valley giants for their perceived roles in terrorist attacks. In June, the family of a victim in the November Paris attacks, sued Google, Twitter, and Facebook for “knowingly permit[ting] the terrorist group ISIS to use their social networks.” In another case against Twitter involving a man killed in Jordan, the document uses similar language, saying “Twitter has knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network.” This new lawsuit’s argument is remarkably similar. All three court cases even provide similar screenshots of violent propaganda and calls for incitement.
As reported by Ars Technica, legal professionals frequently point to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 regarding similar cases. This section essentially says that an internet service provider or web services that hosts third-party content are not liable for the actions of its users. It’s a broad protection that essentially allows companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to even exist at all. It’s also difficult to just blanket ban suspected terrorism sites and accounts. For one, government agencies use social media to track terrorist activity, and blanket censorship also raises free speech concerns.
However, sometimes the benefits of these long-shot cases just remind these big companies to keep up the fight. This weekend, the Obama administration announced that ISIS Twitter traffic had seen a 45 percent decline in two years. Often described as a game of Whack-a-Mole, banning terrorists accounts on social networks is notoriously difficult. But maybe it’s a game we can eventually win.