Four people filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday attempting to force Facebook to ban posts from militias and hate groups following the shooting of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Among the plaintiffs was Hannah Gittings, the partner of one of the protesters fatally shot by Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse was joined to the complaint as a defendant, along with other militia members.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the defendants were engaged in a conspiracy to interfere with civil rights based on 42 USC §§ 1985-86. They further allege negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, for which they claim unspecified damages. The disturbing posts and violent actions that they incited could have been prevented, the plaintiffs claim, if Facebook had taken action.
Although Facebook has already banned violent rhetoric, the plaintiffs claim that the social media site cannot be trusted to enforce this ban without legal action. As evidence of this, the complaint cites a Facebook post by a militia group called the Kenosha Guard that encouraged armed citizens to guard property in Kenosha during the August protests. Respondents on the post reportedly commented “shoot to kill,” and “leave a pile of them and burn the bodies.” Another comment remarked “[it’s] time to switch to real bullets and put a stop to these impetuous children rioting.” In this group was Rittenhouse, who shot two protesters and wounded a third in Kenosha days later. Although the post received more than 400 complaints, Facebook did not take down the post or the group until after the shootings occurred.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that members of the Kenosha Guard, organized through Facebook, assaulted, harassed and threatened them while they were protesting. Further, the complaint alleges that the militia members prevented the protesters from receiving necessary medical help by corralling other protesters after the shooting.
Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement after the shootings, many remain displeased with Facebook’s lack of definitive, reparative action.