Widow of slain SC senator sues Facebook, Russian oligarch, says online radicalization led to Charleston massacre
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WIAT) — As the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, began on June 17, 2015, Jennifer Pinckney did all she could to protect her daughter.
She said she locked the door to her husband’s office, where she and her daughter happened to be when the shots rang out. Then — together — the two hid under former South Carolina Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s desk.
Soon, they’d hear the shooter – a radicalized white supremacist – try to open the door to the office. Jennifer Pinckney called 911 for help. It wouldn’t end the bloodshed soon enough.
Nine people, including Rev. Pinckney, had been murdered, shot to death inside a church they viewed as a place of safety.
Now, Jennifer Pinckney is demanding accountability for the radicalization that she claims led to the Charleston massacre.
On behalf of her teenage daughter, Pinckney is suing Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, and Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin over online misinformation and targeting that she said led to the deaths of her husband and eight others inside Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Wednesday, alleges Facebook’s design is “defective and inherently dangerous” because it promotes extremist group content and weaponizes it against users. It goes on to claim that people like Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin then exploited Facebook’s flawed design, using it to radicalize and sow division among Americans. That process of weaponization and radicalization, the lawsuit stated, led to the Charleston massacre.
“Jennifer Pinckney and her teenage daughter bring this action to obtain some degree of justice from these Defendants and to reassure all African Americans living in the United States that they are entitled to the constitutional protections afforded to all of our citizens regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity,” the lawsuit stated.
The radicalization of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist convicted of the Charleston murders, didn’t start with his family, Pinckney’s lawsuit claims.
“Rather, research shows that Roof was radicalized online by white supremacist propaganda that was directed to him by the Defendants,” the suit said.
Over and over again, the suit claims, Roof was subjected to propaganda that taught him “how to hate.”
“By design, Roof was shown so much white supremacist propaganda that he believed the heinous act he ultimately committed at Mother Emanuel was necessary to spark a race war and save the white race,” the suit said. “Roof’s online radicalization led directly to unspeakable offline violence. And it was all entirely foreseeable to Defendants.”
The radicalization of Roof and others like him was no accident, according to Pinckney, but was a targeted attempt by foreign actors, including Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Internet Research Agency, to carry out “a clandestine operation to incite racial hate and racial violence in the United States.”
The Russian defendants were helped in their effort by Facebook’s defective products, the suit claims.
“Their weapon of choice was social media infiltration and exploitation, and their strategy was very successful because of a social media industry led by Meta, which had complete disregard for the health and safety of its users,” according to Pinckney’s complaint.
Pinckney’s lawsuit alleges product defects, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and that the defendants were engaged in a civil conspiracy in violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
“The repercussions of this attack on the social fabric of the United States were dramatic and have caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” the suit said.
Pinckney has asked the court to award both compensatory and punitive damages in the case.
CBS 42 reached out to Meta for comment but has not yet heard back.