Facebook has been hit with a civil rights lawsuit over recent violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where two people protesting police violence were shot and killed after right-wing militia groups descended on the city.
In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Wisconsin, five people -- including Hannah Gittings, whose boyfriend, Anthony Huber, was killed during last month's protests -- allege that “white racist militias” used Facebook “to broadcast and publicize a 'call to arms' for untrained private citizens to travel across state lines to the peaceful protests advocating for racial justice in America with assault rifles, tactical gear, and militia grade equipment.”
Other defendants in the case include alleged killer Kyle Rittenhouse and the groups “Kenosha Guard,” and “Boogaloo Bois.”
The complaint claims Facebook violated a Reconstruction-era law, originally passed to combat violence by the Ku Klux Klan. That law requires people with knowledge of a conspiracy to deprive others of their civl rights to take reasonable steps to prevent the conspiracy from advancing.
Gittings and the other plaintiffs allege that Facebook was on notice about a conspiracy by the Kenosha Guard, Boogaloo Bois and others, because the company had more than 400 reports of “violent rhetoric taking place on the Kenosha Guard event page.”
“Perhaps, if Facebook had taken down the page in accordance with its policies, Rittenhouse would never have traveled to Kenosha,” the lawsuit states. “Nonetheless, Facebook neglected to prevent the furtherance of the conspiracy.”
A Facebook spokesperson said the company "removed the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and took action against organizations and content related to Kenosha."
The spokesperson added: "We have found no evidence that suggests the shooter followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited to the Event Page they organized.”
Facebook -- as well as YouTube and Twitter -- have defeated other lawsuits brought by crime victims, including victims of terrorist attacks. In those cases, the companies have argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects web platforms from liability for users' crimes.
Last May, the Supreme Court refused to revive a lawsuit against Facebook over terrorist attacks in Israel. In that case, the victims and their family members accused Facebook of allowing its platform to be used by members of Hamas to communicate, organize and recruit new members.