Facebook and its lawyers slammed by judge in terrorism suits

A US district judge accused Facebook’s lawyers—by sending a first-year associate to a hearing—of not taking seriously lawsuits with implications of international terrorism and the murder of innocent people


Facebook said it’s committed to making people feel safe using the social network. Photo: Bloomberg
Facebook said it’s committed to making people feel safe using the social network. Photo: Bloomberg

Manhattan: A federal judge slammed Facebook Inc., saying the social media giant might not be doing enough to deter terrorists from using its platform.

US district judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York, also accused Facebook’s lawyers—by sending a first-year associate to a hearing—of not taking seriously lawsuits with implications of international terrorism and the murder of innocent people.

“I think it is outrageous, irresponsible and insulting,” Garaufis told the attorney Thursday. The judge ordered Kirkland & Ellis Llp, the law firm representing Facebook, to send a more senior lawyer to the next hearing on 28 September because he wanted to “talk to someone who talks to senior management at Facebook.”

Garaufis is overseeing two lawsuits in which more than 20,000 victims of attacks and their families accused Facebook of helping groups in the Middle East such as Hamas. The judge noted similar suits haven’t been successful under US law which insulates publishers from liability for the speech of others. But he said that doesn’t mean Facebook shouldn’t take it seriously and try to address the issue.

Isn’t the social media platform “basically putting together people who’d like to be involved in terrorism with people are terrorists?” the judge asked. “Doesn’t Facebook have some moral obligation to help cabin the kinds of communications that appear on it?”

Judge goes on

The judge didn’t stop there.

“Let’s put the law aside and talk about reality,” Garaufis said, less than a week after a bomb rattled the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan, injuring 29 people. “The reality is that people are communicating through social media and the outcome of these inquiries, be it Google or Facebook, has the potential of hooking people up to do very dangerous, bad and harmful things in terms of international and domestic terror.”

Federal judges have limited ability to address terrorism and don’t usually get involved in such cases until someone is arrested and charged with a crime, Garaufis said.

“Don’t you have a social responsibility as citizens of the world without having these plaintiffs come to me in Brooklyn?” he asked. “There are things you could do that don’t involve the courts or the judicial system.”

Facebook said it’s committed to making people feel safe using the social network.

“Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us,” the company said in a statement. “We sympathize with the victims of these horrible crimes.”

A Kirkland & Ellis spokeswoman didn’t have an immediate comment on the judge’s remarks.

Families of victims of 2015 attacks in France and Jordan have filed a pair of lawsuits against social media giants in California where they claim Twitter, Facebook and Google have played crucial roles in the “explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years.” Both cases point to federal statute which allows victims of terror attacks to seek damages from parties that provide communications facilities that lend support to attackers.

A judge ruled that US law protects Twitter from being treated as a publisher of any information provided by another content provider. The victim—the widow of an American murdered by an ISIS sympathizer in Amman, Jordan—amended the complaint and refiled it.

The cases are Force v. Facebook, 16-cv-5158, and Cohen v. Facebook, 16-cv-4453, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). Bloomberg

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