Middle East

Facebook sued for $1 billion by US terror victims for Hamas posts


Suit filed in New York federal court alleges social media giant ‘knowingly provided material support and resources’ for Gaza terror group.

By Tamar Pileggi (Times of Israel)

The families of five Americans murdered or injured in recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel have filed a lawsuit against Facebook for failing to ban the Gaza-based terror group Hamas from using its social media platform.

The suit was brought to the New York State District Court under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows American citizens who are victims of terror attacks overseas to sue in US federal court.

The plaintiffs, family members of victims in five separate terrorist attacks between June 2014 and March 2016, are seeking $1 billion in punitive damages from the social media giant, which has recently come under attack from Israeli officials for hosting what they say is Palestinian incitement toward violence.

“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” a press release issued by the plaintiffs said. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Stuart and Robbi Force, the parents of 29-year-old US Army veteran and Vanderbilt University graduate student Taylor Force, who was fatally stabbed by a Hamas terrorist while visiting Israel on a school-sponsored trip in March.

Joining the Forces as plaintiffs are the parents of 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, who was kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in June 2014; the parents of 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun who was killed in an October 2014 car-ramming attack in Jerusalem; the son of 76-year-old Richard Lakin who was killed in an October 2015 shooting and stabbing attack; and Menachem Mendel Rivkin, who was seriously wounded in a January 2016 stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

All of the victims were US citizens.

A caricature by Hasan Abadi encourages Palestinians to stab Israeli soldiers [Facebook image]
A caricature by Hasan Abadi encourages Palestinians to stab Israeli soldiers [Facebook image]

New York-based civil rights lawyer Robert Tolchin and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, filed the suit.

The plaintiffs sought an injunction against Facebook requiring the social network to remove any content that promotes violence against Israelis, and to actively to monitor its website for inciting content. The suit alleged that Facebook has a “legal and moral obligation” to block much of this content but that it chooses not to.

A verdict in that case has yet to be handed down.

In the recent wave of attacks starting October 2015, in which some 40 victims have been killed, many of the Palestinian terrorists were found to have posted praise for previous attackers on their social media accounts. The “lone wolf” assailants, unaffiliated with established terror groups, mourned relatives killed while attacking Israelis, and peppered their feeds with posts hailing or yearning for “martyrdom.”

The Times of Israel reported last year that some 3.7 million Palestinians follow the Quds News Network, believed to be affiliated with Islamic Jihad, on Facebook and 4.2 million follow the Shehab News Network, which is believed to be affiliated with Hamas.

The pages at times feature gruesome images of dead Palestinians and caricatures encouraging more attacks, often accompanied by a hashtag ordering “Stab!” or warning “Al-Aqsa is in danger!”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan recently claimed Facebook was a “monster” that enables terrorism, and charged that its founder Mark Zuckerberg had the blood of 13-year-old Hallel Ariel, killed in a stabbing attack in late June, on his hands.

Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked are currently advancing a bill allowing the government to seek a court order to force the social media group to remove certain content based on police recommendations.

The proposal was announced immediately after Shaked and Erdan met with Facebook officials in the Knesset in June, and will be formally submitted in the coming weeks.

Separately, Zionist Union MK Revital Swid has submitted a bill that would levy an NIS 300,000 ($77,000) fine against Facebook for every post that includes incitement which the social media giant does not immediately scrub. Swid’s bill — signed by both coalition and opposition lawmakers — places the onus on Facebook to actively track posts and delete them, something the company says it does not do, relying instead on users who “flag” problematic posts.

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