Family of shooting victim sues Facebook’s parent company.
Meta Platforms, the parent company of the popular social media site Facebook, is being sued by the family of one of the victims, senior pastor Clementa Pinckney, over a racially motivated attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. The family is alleging that Facebook’s “defective design of its algorithms and product…helped radicalize the shooter.” Jennifer Pinckney brought the lawsuit on behalf of her and Clementa’s minor daughter.
Two years after the attack, the shooter, Dylann Roof, was sentenced to death. He fatally shot nine members of the Black congregation during a Bible study session. Roof’s sentence marked the first time the death penalty was brought and prevailed in a federal hate crimes case filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
At the time of Roof’s initial indictment, the DOJ announced, “Several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of his goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African Americans had committed against white people. To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African Americans because of their race. An essential element of his plan, however, was to find his victims inside of a church, specifically an African-American church, to ensure the greatest notoriety and attention to his actions.”
The new lawsuit states that Meta Platform’s operations caused Roof to be exposed to white supremacist propaganda on Facebook. It further alleges that the shooter would not have been exposed if he hadn’t encountered the content on social media. Thus, he wouldn’t have carried out the crime if he hadn’t been on the platform at the time.
“Extensive study of Dylann Roof has shown that his formative years and familial environment did not include instruction as to white supremacist ideology. Rather, research shows that Roof was radicalized online by white supremacist propaganda that was directed to him by the Defendants,” the complaint reads, alleging that Facebook’s algorithm “optimizes for angry, divisive and polarizing content.”
It states further, “By design, Roof was shown so much white supremacist propaganda that he believed the heinous act he ultimately committed at Mother Emanual was necessary to spark a race war and save the white race. Roof’s online radicalization led directly to unspeakable offline violence. And it was all entirely foreseeable to Defendants.”
In addressing hate on the platform, Facebook has said publicly it “does not allow groups or people that proclaim a violent mission, including hate organizations” to use the site. The company has also said its policies have “long prohibited hateful treatment of people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity or religion,”including white supremacy.”
In 2019, Meta Platforms rolled out a new policy to further ban “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism” on both Facebook and Instagram. “It’s clear that these concepts are deeply linked to organized hate groups and have no place on our services,” it said at the time.