A recent ordinary scheduling conference turned into anything but ordinary when New York federal judge Nicholas Garaufis made a point of berating Facebook Inc. for sending a first-year associate to cover the hearing. Garaufis’s comments strongly suggest that the court believes the social media giant is not taking seriously lawsuits alleging that Facebook is not doing enough to deter terrorists from using the social media platform.
Judge Garaufis Hammers Facebook for Sending First-Year Associate to Hearing
Addressing the first year associate, Garaufis said:
You tell your folks back at [your law firm] that I don’t much like the idea that they think so little of this court that they didn’t send a partner here to talk about this kind of problem which implicates international terrorism and the murder of innocent people in Israel and other places.
I think it is outrageous and irresponsible and insulting and you’re not the person doing the insulting. It’s whoever sent you here. Facebook pays millions of dollars to lawyers. This is a real problem. Whether I can solve it judicially is problematic perhaps. But I want to talk to someone who talks to senior management of Facebook. Next time they send a partner.
Judge Garaufis “Unimpressed” by Fact that Lead Counsel Had to Appear for an “Emergency” Hearing in Texas
The first-year associate responded that Facebook’s lead counsel was called away on an “emergency” in a case being litigated in Texas. However, the judge was not persuaded by the first-year associate’s story. Garaufis replied that he was “unimpressed,” and that a law firm that employs 1,700 lawyers worldwide could have sent someone with more experience.
Lawsuits Against Facebook Allege that Social Media Giant Serves as “Match-Maker” for Extremists
The judge’s harsh comments towards came during the middle of a scheduling conference over two lawsuits brought against Facebook by the families of Israeli and American terrorism victims, who alleged that Facebook and its algorithms further terrorism by acting as a “match-maker” for extremist groups. The two lawsuits, filed on behalf of more than 20,000 victims of terrorist and their families have accused Facebook of aiding extremist groups in the Middle East, including Hamas. Both cases point to federal statute, which allows victims of terror attacks to seek damages from parties that provide communications facilities that lend support to attackers.
Garaufis said that while similar lawsuits have been unsuccessful because U.S. law protects publishers from liability for the speech of others that does not mean that Facebook should not take the allegations levied against it very seriously.
Judge Garaufis Addressed Facebook’s “Social Responsibility”
Garaufis also commented on what he perceived as Facebook’s “social responsibility,” stating:
Let’s put the law aside and talk about reality. The reality is that people are communicating through social media and the outcome of these inquiries, be it Google or Facebook, has the potential of hooking people up to do very dangerous, bad and harmful things in terms of international and domestic terror.
Don’t you have a social responsibility as citizens of the world without having these plaintiffs come to me in Brooklyn? There are things you could do that don’t involve the courts or the judicial system.
Judge Garaufis Refused to Discuss Whether Lawsuit is Proper Vehicle to Address Claims Raised by Lawsuits With First-Year Associate
In defense of Facebook, the first-year associate told the judge that a lawsuit was not the proper vehicle to solve the problems raised by the lawsuits, but the judge did not like that answer. “I’ve been a lawyer for 41 years and a judge for 16 years and I’m not having this discussion with you,” Garaufis said.
Judge Garaufis Says he Hopes Facebook’s Lawyers Can “Scrounge Up” a Partner to Attend the Next Hearing
After dressing down Facebook, the judge set a scheduling conference for this week to talk to higher-up from the first-year associate’s law firm “who talks to senior management at Facebook.” In conclusion, the judge quipped: “Maybe [your law firm] can scrounge up a partner who is not busy with working on some project in Texas to come see a lowly United States District Judge in the Eastern District of New York on that day. Have a nice day.” The first-year associate thanked the court, and then left the courtroom.
Plaintiffs’ Lawyer Hopes Reprimand Will Prompt Facebook to Act
An Israeli lawyer, and activist, who has led the charge for the more than 20,000 plaintiffs, said that she hopes the judge’s stern reprimand would prompt Facebook to “deal with the phenomenon of incitement on the pages of Facebook.” Additionally, one of the class plaintiffs has said, “Our aim in filing the lawsuits is to force Facebook to proactively monitor and remove in real-time all materials that incite to terror.”
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