The parents of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was killed in the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, penned an open letter in The Guardian Wednesday condemning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to effectively stop those spreading hoaxes and conspiracies on the social media platform.
The couple detailed how they were forced to live in hiding after “conspiracy groups and anti-government provocateurs” began spreading misinformation about their son’s death spread on Facebook. The couple wrote that Facebook subsequently chose to protect those claims — despite the fact that they were false — rather than deleting the sensitive material.
“Almost immediately after the massacre of 20 little children, all under the age of seven, and six elementary school teachers and staff, the attacks on us began,” Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa wrote. “Conspiracy groups and anti-government provocateurs began making claims on Facebook that the massacre was a hoax, that the murdered were so-called ‘crisis actors’ and that their audience should rise up to ‘find out the truth’ about our families. These claims and calls to action spread across Facebook like wildfire and, despite our pleas, were protected by Facebook.”
They added, “Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected.”
Pozner and De La Rosa appeared to be referring to right-wing host Alex Jones and his site InfoWars, which has repeatedly propagated a conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was a “hoax,” that the parents and children were actors, and that media photos from the scene were staged.
“Sandy Hook is a synthetic completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids,” Jones said on a segment of his web show in 2015. “And it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors. I mean they even ended up using photos of kids killed in mass shootings here in a fake mass shooting in Turkey — so yeah, or Pakistan. The sky is now the limit.”
The families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who responded to the scene have since filed three separate defamation suits against Jones, who has repeatedly claimed the First Amendment protects his comments.
Pozner and De La Rosa’s letter comes as Facebook grapples to explain why it protects InfoWars and other conspiracy sites from new efforts to rid the platform of “fake news.”
In an interview with Recode last week, Zuckerberg was asked why Facebook would allow an organization like InfoWars to post dangerous conspiracy theories, such as those involving the Sandy Hook massacre. Zuckerberg responded by saying those who deny the events at Sandy Hook or even historical tragedies like the Holocaust are simply voicing their opinion. Those opinions, he claimed, are protected on Facebook.
“At the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook’s approach to tackling misinformation on the site is to simply limit its distribution, rather than remove it from the site entirely.
“Reducing the distribution of misinformation — rather than removing it outright — strikes the right balance between free expression and a safe and authentic community,” Facebook said in a statement last week.
The damage done to families of Sandy Hook victims, however, is irreversible. What’s more, Jones continues to push lies and debunked conspiracy theories to his millions of followers with zero consequences.
During his show on Monday afternoon, Jones tested the limits of Facebook’s rules, accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, of overseeing the rape of children.
“I mean, Mueller covered up for a decade for [Jeffrey] Epstein kidnapping kids, flying them on sex planes, some kids as young as 7 years old, reportedly, with big perverts raping them to frame people,” he said in a live video streamed on his verified Facebook page. “He’s even above the pedophiles, though. The word is he doesn’t have sex with kids, he just controls it all.”
Jones finished off the rant by pantomiming shooting Mueller, according to BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel. “Make the move first, and then it’s going to happen. It’s not a joke. It’s not a game. It’s the real world. Politically. You’re going to get it, or I’m going to die trying, bitch. Get ready,” he said.
A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that the comments do not violate the company’s community standards as they are not a credible statement of intent to commit violence.