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Mark Zuckerberg 'reconsidering' lawsuits against Hawaiians

Facebook CEO appears to backtrack after filing a series of lawsuits against people who may have rights to traverse his 700-acre estate.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears to be backtracking on lawsuits he filed last month in relation to land he purchased in Hawaii in 2014.
James Martin/CNET

Mark Zuckerberg is apparently having second thoughts about a series of lawsuits he has filed related to a recent land purchase in Hawaii.

The Facebook CEO has been the target of widespread criticism after filing quiet title lawsuits in December against a few hundred people who own or once owned property inside 700 acres of beachfront land he purchased on Kauai's North Shore in 2014. Zuckerberg contended that his intentions were misunderstood.

"Based on feedback from the local community, we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward," Zuckerberg said in a statement. "We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians, and preserves the environment."

Zuckerberg purchased the land for a reported $100 million to create a secluded sanctuary for his family. But close to a dozen parcels within his property are owned by local families who have ancestral rights to traverse his estate, rights based on fractional property rights that are often passed down from generation to generation without a will or a deed.

The lawsuits drew immediate condemnation, with the Honolulu Star Advertiser saying the lawsuits were aimed "at forcing these families to sell their land at a public court auction to the highest bidder."

Zuckerberg responded that the lawsuits were filed "to find all these partial owners so we can pay them their fair share" and vowed that "no one will be forced off the land."

Still the lawsuits have made many locals uncomfortable, including Hawaii state Rep. Kaniela Ing, who promised to introduce legislation that would help local families in similar situations in the future.

"We cannot allow billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg to use piles of money to tilt Hawaii's justice system against local residents," Ing wrote in a recent Facebook post. "Let's remind Zuckerberg that, in Hawaii, we approach each other with aloha and talk story first. We don't initiate conversation by suing our neighbors."

Updated Jan. 5 at 8 a.m. PT with Facebook comment.