An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg from the parents of a Sandy Hook victim
7 - 9 minutes
After our son’s death, online abuse claiming the attack was a hoax drove us into hiding. Yet Facebook refuses to take meaningful action
Dear Mr Zuckerberg,
Our names are Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa. We are the parents of Noah, who on 14 December, 2012, at the age of six, was gunned down in his classroom at Sandy Hook elementary school. Since that day, we, as well as the parents, family, and friends of the 25 other victims, have been embroiled in a constant battle with social media providers, including Facebook, to protect us from harassment and threats.
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. 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.
While terms you use, like “fake news” or “fringe conspiracy groups”, sound relatively innocuous, let me provide you with some insight into the effects of allowing your platform to continue to be used as an instrument to disseminate hate. We have endured online, telephone, and in-person harassment, abuse, and death threats. In fact, one of the abusers was sentenced to jail for credible death threats that she admitted in court she had uttered because she believed in online content created by these “fringe groups”. In order to protect ourselves and our surviving children, we have had to relocate numerous times. These groups use social media, including Facebook, to “hunt” us, posting our home address and videos of our house online. We are currently living in hiding. We are far from alone in our experiences, as many other families who have lost loved ones in mass shootings and other tragedies have reported the same continuing torment.
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. What makes the entire situation all the more horrific is that we have had to wage an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections to remove the most offensive and incendiary content.
In your recent interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, you were asked why Facebook would allow an organization to post a conspiracy theory claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. While you implied that Facebook would act more quickly to take down harassment directed at Sandy Hook victims than, say, the posts of Holocaust deniers, that is not our experience. In fact, you went on to suggest that this type of content would continue to be protected and that your idea for combatting incendiary content was to provide counterpoints to push “fake news” lower in search results. Of course, this provides no protection to us at all. It would require people writing articles and making posts about our family and the massacre in the same quantity and read and spread by the same numbers as those who post and publish the hoax content. Since few are writing about a school shooting from six years ago, especially when other mass shootings have followed, only the Sandy Hook “hoax” information appears and is spread, giving increased credence to the hateful, dangerous content. If your goal is truly to provide protection to us and remove dangerous and malicious content quickly, may we suggest the following:
Treat victims of mass shootings and other tragedies as a protected group, such that attacks on them are specifically against Facebook policy.
Provide affected people with access to Facebook staff who will remove hateful and harassing posts against victims immediately.
Facebook plays a mammoth role in exposing the world’s masses to information. That level of power comes with the tremendous responsibility of ensuring that your platform is not used to harm others or contribute to the proliferation of hate. Yetit appears that under the guise of free speech, you are prepared to give license to people who make it their purpose to do just that.
After the death of our son and the bewildering attacks on our family and the families of the other victims, we began to hear from the people affected by other mass shootings and tragedies who were suffering similar abuse on Facebook. In response to the overt disregard shown by Facebook, we founded HONR.com with the mission of providing assistance to those being targeted online by mob hate.
After feeling so much hope following your pledge in the Senate to make Facebook a safer and more hospitable place for social interaction, we are once again feeling let down by your recent comments supporting a safe harbor for Holocaust deniers and hate groups that attack victims of tragedy.
Our son Noah no longer has a voice, nor will he ever get to live out his life. His absence is felt every day. But we are unable to properly grieve for our baby or move on with our lives because you, arguably the most powerful man on the planet, have deemed that the attacks on us are immaterial, that providing assistance in removing threats is too cumbersome, and that our lives are less important than providing a safe haven for hate.
Leonard Pozner & Veronique De La Rosa
Parents of Noah Pozner, Sandy Hook shooting victim