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October 26, 2015
The civil complaint filed late on Sunday but announced only on Monday, seeks an injunction to require Facebook to block all racist incitement and calls for violence against Jews in Israel, but no damages.
A 76-page list of plaintiffs contend that “Facebook’s refusal to remove the flood of extremist videos, statements and cartoons being posted by Palestinians is encouraging imminent violence and fanning the flames of the terrorist attacks that have overwhelmed Israel in the past month.”
The lead plaintiff, Israeli-American Richard Lakin, 76, was shot in the head and stabbed multiple times as a passenger on a Jerusalem bus on October 13 when Palestinian terrorists from East Jerusalem, armed with guns and knives, carried out an attack.
Two Israelis were killed in the attack and Lakin remains in critical condition in a Jerusalem hospital.
The plaintiffs include people who haven’t been the victim of any attacks, but who say that incitement through Facebook endangers all of them.
They allege that social media, particularly postings by Palestinians on Facebook, “is spurring on the terrorist attacks against Israelis in the past month.”
The complaint says the plaintiffs “have been living in the crosshairs of a murderous terrorist rampage carried out by killers who attack people with knives, axes, screwdrivers, cars and Molotov cocktails for no reason other than that the attacker perceives the victims to be Jewish.”
In a wave of violence this past month, 10 Israelis have been killed in shooting and knifing attacks, and more than 50 Palestinians, more than half of them assailants, have been killed as well.
“Many of these murderers were motivated to commit their heinous crimes by incitement to murder they read on Facebook – demagogues and leaders exhorting their followers to ‘slaughter the Jews,’ and offering instruction as to the best manner to do so, including even “anatomical charts showing the best places to stab a human being.”
The lawsuit filed by attorneys Robert Tolchin of New York, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of the non-profit Shurat HaDin legal organization and Asher Perlin of Florida, claims that Facebook has a legal and moral obligation to monitor and restrict racist incitement and calls to violence against Jews.
It acknowledges that Facebook has taken some steps such as implementing rules concerning content it will prohibit, and that it has taken down some extreme calls for murder but only after Israelis complained.
The plaintiffs argue that Facebook is “far from a neutral or passive social media platform and cannot claim it is a mere bulletin board for other parties’ postings.”
They note that Facebook “utilizes sophisticated algorithms to serve personalized ads, monitor users’ activities and connect them to potential friends” and claims it “has the ability to monitor and block postings by extremists and terrorists urging violence just as it restricts pornography.”
The complaint seeks to overturn past precedent protecting Internet service companies from liability for third party postings, claiming that the way Facebook operates, intentionally or not, it is functionally actively involved in users’ pages.
“While everyone understands the need to keep the web free, Facebook’s decision to allow this flood of terrorist incitement and calls to murder Jews to continue has crossed all red lines,” Darshan-Leitner said.
“Facebook is fanning the flames of the current Palestinian intifada and its refusals to actively monitor and block the incitement to violence is an outrageous abandonment of its obligations to the public.”