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American-Israeli Richard Lakin, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he is “outraged” at Facebook for pretending that it has zero tolerance for terrorism.
He spoke minutes after a climactic hearing in a terrorism lawsuit against the social media giant.
Lakin was one of the original plaintiffs in a 2015 lawsuit filed by a group of 20,000 Israelis against Facebook for providing a platform for terrorists involved in the “stabbing intifada,” and demanding an injunction ordering the firm to act more forcefully against terrorist incitement on its pages.
Wednesday’s hearing was the final one in a US federal court in Brooklyn before the judge decides whether Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center, representing the plaintiffs, has found the first-ever legal silver bullet for breaking what has been an impenetrable barrier protecting Facebook from terrorism lawsuits.
Lakin was wounded and later died from his wounds in an attack by two Palestinians armed with a knife and a gun on a Jerusalem bus in fall 2015.
The 20,000 plaintiffs’ case is combined with a $1 billion damages case on behalf of the families of five victims, including US Army veteran Taylor Force, of the terrorist group Hamas.
Facebook had filed a motion to dismiss both cases arguing that, like all prior similar terrorism cases against it, the US Communications Decency Act (1996) bars all legal claims against it for posts by third parties using its platform – a defense that has proved unbeatable to date.
Shurat Hadin has argued that Facebook was not the intended target of the Communications Decency Act, which was focused on publishing, and that the social media platform has powerful algorithms it could use to catch and take down incitement and terrorist communications.
One relatively novel issue is the NGO’s attempt to use the US Anti-Terrorism Act against Facebook and to define the company as providing material support for terrorism by letting terrorists use its platform, instead of merely accusing Facebook of failing to control incitement, a less serious charge.
Shurat Hadin has admitted that the only court decision to date on this issue, earlier in 2016, went in favor of Facebook, but has claimed that case was “plainly wrongly decided and an outlier,” since a terrorism claim, unlike an incitement claim, relates not to publishing content, but to providing services.
The argument is that even if Facebook is not actively publishing third parties’ content, it is actively providing them the service of its platform.
Avni also told the Post that he “continued to be outraged by Facebook’s behavior… While this is a lawsuit about a specific issue of law, that they shouldn’t provide services to terror organizations, there is a basic ethical question that they shouldn’t help terrorists and allow them to operate freely on their platform.”
He added, “Facebook’s lawyer started his speech saying it has zero tolerance for terror. But the big dirty secret is that they make a ton of money from it. Facebook is getting lots of traffic and selling ads – the quantity of jihadists’ traffic is big and they get a lot of money out of it.”
Shurat Hadin’s New York counsel Robert Tolchin said, “Our case transcends” the Communications Decency Act, since “we are not talking about who published a post – we are talking about who provided services to a terror organization. Most of the judge’s questions [at the hearing] focused on that tension.”
Tolchin said he thought the judge came away with a view that the issue was more complicated than being able to just simply dismiss it because of the standard Communications Decency Act argument.
Shurat Hadin Director Nitsana Darshan- Leitner said, “The terrorist stabbing attacks throughout Israel and the murder of these innocent American and Israeli victims would never have occurred without the massive wave of incitement over social media.
“Facebook believes it is entitled to make billions of dollars annually while having no obligations to police its web pages and filter out calls to murder innocent Jews worldwide,” she added.
A decision is expected in the coming weeks or months.