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Partner of Kenosha shooting victim sues Facebook, shooter, militias

The lawsuit quotes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who said Facebook made an “operational mistake” in not removing the page of the militia group.

The partner of one of the civil rights protesters who was shot and killed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month has sued Facebook, alleging that the tech company was negligent in failing to remove posts calling on local militia members to take up arms.

The lawsuit quotes from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comment days after the shooting that Facebook made an “operational mistake” in not removing the page of the militia group, the Kenosha Guard.

Hannah Gittings and three other plaintiffs who were protesters in Kenosha are asking the court to impose an injunction on Facebook that would prohibit the company “from violating its own policies that are designed to prevent violence.”

Gittings was the partner of Anthony Huber, who was one of two people killed. She watched him die, the lawsuit said. BuzzFeed News first reported the lawsuit.

In the days before the Aug. 25 shooting, Facebook received more than 400 complaints and flags about the Kenosha Guard site and event page, saying the page was mired in violent rhetoric, according to the lawsuit.

Anthony Huber.
Anthony Huber.via Facebook

“In other words, Facebook received more than 400 warnings that what did happen was going to occur,” the lawsuit says

“Perhaps the worst part of this organized deprivation of rights and dignity is that it all could have been prevented,” it says.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Wisconsin federal court also names as defendants the accused shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, as well as local militias and militia leaders.

Lin Wood, a lawyer representing Rittenhouse, called the lawsuit “errant nonsense” in a tweet but said it “may provide a golden opportunity for obtaining documents & sworn testimony from Facebook.” Wood said he’s planning a defamation case against Facebook for calling the shooting a mass shooting, a label that Wood said amounts to an accusation of mass murder.

The claims against Facebook may face an uphill challenge if past suits against tech companies are a guide.

Federal courts frequently dismiss lawsuits against tech companies over posts and other forms of speech by third parties under a 1996 law that granted the internet industry immunity against claims like defamation. Gittings’ suit, though, cites a Wisconsin statute and Wisconsin common law on negligence, as well as a separate federal law aimed at people who know ahead of time about conspiracies to interfere with civil rights and have the power to prevent them but neglect to do so.