On Thursday, Larry Klayman, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, sued Facebook and Mark Zuckerber for $1 billion in damages. Facebook's offense? Failing to shut down the "Third Intifada" Facebook page sooner than it did. Since Klayman, is "known to be a strong supporter of Israel, and has been called a 'Zionist' publicly by radical Palestinians and other such Arabic interests," argued a breathless press release issued by Klayman, "Mr. Klayman is thus a target of this call to kill Jews."
The "Third Intifada" page debuted on Facebook in March, initially calling for peaceful protests in the Palestinian territories on May 15. As a non-violent protest page, "Third Intifada" positioned itself to be the Palestinian heir to the digitally-assisted revolts that have swept the Middle East over the past few months. "After the Tunisian intifada and the Egyptian intifada and the Libyan intifada comes the Palestinian intifada," read the information box on the Facebook page. Facebook resisted initial calls to de-activate the page.
Then, in the middle of last week, Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein personally wrote Mark Zuckerberg a letter requesting that he take down the page. "Third Intifada," it appears, had steered away from its non-violent beginnings. "On this Facebook page there are posted many remarks and movie clips which call for the killing of Israelis and Jews and the 'liberating' of Jerusalem and of Palestine through acts of violence," wrote Edelstein. On March 29, Facebook relented, shutting down the page. "After administrators of the page received repeated warnings about posts that violated our policies, we removed the page," Andrew Noyes, of Facebook, told The New York Times.
That ought to have been the end of the story. But for Larry Klayman, "the damage had already been done," in the words of the release. "The complaint alleges assault and negligence," it continued, "including willful and wanton conduct, gross negligence and recklessness on the part of the Defendants, as it has put Mr. Klayman's life at risk, as well as other similarly situated Jews who are prominent public figures and otherwise."
Who is Larry Klayman? For an introductory profile of the man, we turn to a 1998 article from Slate's Jacob Weisberg, entitled "Nut Watch." Slate articles are typically known for ingenious, counterintuitive theses that its writers clearly spend hours thinking up—carefully-wrought and intricately worded. In the case of the Larry Klayman article, Weisberg's thesis was this: "Klayman is off his rocker."
Klayman has a history of filing lawsuits—many of them, against many people. Weisberg called him a "one-man litigation explosion." In an interview with Weisberg, Klayman accused the reporter of being a Clinton spy, many of whom had been "casing" his office following a $90 million invasion-of-privacy suit he had lobbed at Hillary Clinton and others. Klayman was also suing his own mother. Literally. And after Newsweek reported this fact, Klayman resorted to a tactic that still works today: a wild-eyed press release.
Klaidman [the Newsweek reporter with a confusingly similar name] used this information, obviously dug up by private investigators of the Clintons to suggest that the Judicial Watch chairman will sue anyone, and so hurt Klayman by trampling on the memory of his grandmother. This is untrue, unfair, and outrageous! What is true is that Klayman will do what is right, no matter who is involved. Whether it means caring for his sick and dying grandmother who raised him, guaranteeing payment to her nurses, or taking action to make sure they are paid. Klayman will not shrink from his standards of ethics and morality. Unlike Klaidman, who wants to curry favor with Clinton administration friends such as [George] Stephanopoulos, Klayman looks to no one, other than God, for guidance and direction.
Despite his antics, Klayman had managed to become a regular on programs like Crossfire, Rivera Live, and The Charles Grodin Show, by the late '80s. Also, he is the author of a book called Whores. (Klayman, asked to comment for this post, responded to an email that identified this publication only with the words "Who are u with?")
Even if Weisberg's portrait suggests Klayman shouldn't be taken seriously, it's worth taking his suit seriously just for a moment, if only as a thought experiment. (Facebook has dismissed the suit as "without merit.") If a page on Facebook advocated violence, and violence were to result, would Facebook have blood on its hands? The arc of technology does not inherently bend towards justice; radio was used to enflame the Rwandan genocide, for instance. And if so, would it be financially responsible for damages? How swiftly must it act? Would all pages need to undergo Facebook approval, like apps in the Apple app store? Facebook has what amounts to its own police force, but no force is large enough to constantly be monitoring all the speech that occurs on Facebook. How can it all be monitored, and how to strike the balance between freedom and security of users? Some call this an "ethical quandary for social sites." But, frivolous though Klayman's suit may be, they could also become a legal quandary some day. Congress hasn't been shy about knocking on Zuckerberg's door (and Facebook has responded by staffing itself with Beltway insiders).
That's one thing that Mr. Klayman represents: a madhouse glimpse into what might be a real future of legal and legislative wrangling.
The other thing he represents is the odd way that fact and fiction intermingle. Klayman indicates in his press release that he takes as truth the story told in the recent movie about Facebook: "Apparently, the ethically compromised Zuckerberg has no conscience or sense of right or wrong, as depicted recently in the award winning film 'Social Network.'" This is interesting, since Aaron Sorkin and others have been quick to admit that the film is a dramatization that takes certain dramatic liberties. It's also interesting because it's not the first time that Sorkin and Klayman's paths have crossed. Back in the heyday of Klayman's litigation storms, in 2000, Sorkin's The West Wing presented a very similar character, "Harry Klaypool." Back then, Klayman headed a group called "Judicial Watch." The Klaypool character headed a fictionalized group called "Freedom Watch."
Life imites art. If Mark Zuckerberg had a mind more like Larry Klayman's, he might wonder whether it's really Aaron Sorkin who's been out to get him all along.
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