Sandy Hook victim's parents slam Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in open letter

Noah Pozner's parents say the social network failed to protect them from online abuse, and they're not impressed with Facebook's response.

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On December 12, 2012, a green poster on a tree memorializes Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting.

A memorial to Noah Pozner stands in Fairfield, Connecticut, on Dec. 17, 2012. The parents of the slain 6-year-old wrote an open letter to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Hartford Courant

The parents of one of the 20 children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting want to know why Mark Zuckerberg has made Facebook "a safe haven for hate."

Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose 6-year-old son Noah Pozner was killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, attack spoke directly to the social network's founder in an open letter published by The Guardian.

Relatives Of Gun Violence Victims Hold News Conference In Washington

Noah Pozner's older sister holds an image of her brother.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

They write that "conspiracy groups and anti-government provocateurs" used Facebook to make claims that the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre was a hoax, saying the victims were "crisis actors" and that they must "find out the truth" about victims' families.

"These claims and calls to action spread across Facebook like wildfire and, despite our pleas, were protected by Facebook," said Pozner and De La Rosa.

The pair note that while Facebook dismisses the claims as "fake news" created by "fringe conspiracy groups," they are living in hiding after enduring harassment and death threats online, on the phone and in person.

One of the abusers was sentenced to jail for threats she admitted to making as a result of accusations made by one of the groups.

Pozner and De La Rosa cite the assurances Zuckerberg made regarding his efforts to battle disinformation on Facebook, but say those aren't enough. They want the site's policies to be altered so that victims of tragedies become protected groups and for those affected to have direct access to Facebook staff who'll remove harassing posts.

They note that that founded HONR.com to help people targeted by online mobs as a result of "overt disregard shown by Facebook."

In a statement, Facebook expressed its sympathy for Pozner, De La Rosa and other families who've lost someone to mass shootings. The company admitted that it sees behavior that's "truly abhorrent and represents the worst of the internet and humanity" on its site, despite the vast majority of the reaction to tragedies being "very positive."

"We recognize victims of mass shootings and other tragedies are vulnerable to offensive and incendiary comments, and we don't allow attacks against them," a spokesperson said. 

"We want to make ourselves available to victims and families and be responsive to their needs in a way that's best and easiest for them. We do have channels through which they can reach out to people at Facebook. Following tragedies, victims and families have used these channels to escalate content to us and raise questions and concerns."

However, Pozner contacted CNET to say that they only heard from Facebook after their Guardian letter was published. He added that the company said he should call if he needed anything, but failed to include a phone number.

"This passive response, only after the media focuses a bright light on their failure to provide any type of protection, is emblematic of the complete lack of assistance and care that we have received from Facebook, since day one," Pozner said in an email.

The social media giant said it removed one of the main Sandy Hook conspiracy theory groups, NBC reported last week, but Mashable says it found several such groups still on the site.

In April, Pozner and De La Rosa sued InfoWars' Alex Jones, saying his conspiracy theories led to death threats and "intense emotional anguish," Buzzfeed reported.

Last week, the social network allowed Jones to use his page to livestream a rant in which he accused, without substantiation, special counsel Robert Mueller of pedophilia and pantomimed shooting him. A Facebook spokesperson said that his action didn't breach the social network's community standards.

On Thursday, Facebook banned the right wing conspiracy theorist for 30 days after removing four videos it said violated its community standards. 

That ban only affected his personal account, meaning "The Alex Jones Channel" and "Infowars" will stay on Facebook for now and his colleagues can continue to post unless they break the rules -- so you can still see new posts on his channels and still watch his show live, which Pozner noted in his email to CNET.

Facebook's move came came after YouTube took action against Jones over separate videos by removing them, as well as his ability to broadcast live to the site for 90 days.

First published July 26 at 3:47 a.m. PT.
Update, 7:05 a.m. PT: Added comment from Facebook.
Update, July 31 at 2:07 a.m. PT: Added Lenny Pozner's response and Facebook's banning Alex Jones.

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