Lawyers representing the relatives of four Americans who have been killed and one wounded in Israel and the West Bank have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Facebook. The suit contends that the social media company has provided content services for the terrorist group Hamas, including intelligence on Israeli military movement and road closures, notices for demonstrations, and instructions on how to commit terrorist acts. The suit was filed in a New York State district court using the Anti-Terrorism Act that allows victims of overseas terrorist acts to sue responsible parties in American courts.

The plaintiffs in the suit claim that Facebook has both a moral and legal responsibility to police its website to prevent it from being used for promoting illegal acts. They further claim that the social media has failed to do so where anti-Israel terrorist groups like Hamas are concerned.

The suit is likely to plow new legal ground and encourage governments to crack down on the use of social media to support terrorism. Other entities, such as banks, can be sanctioned if they are used to further illegal activities with the knowledge of management.

The lawsuit suggests that just as banks can be prevented from moving money around on behalf of criminal organizations and terrorist groups, social media companies like Facebook should be prevented from posting information for the same kinds of entities.

Facebook, for its part, claims that it removes and disables content that provokes a direct threat of physical harm and to public safety. If the plaintiffs in the suit prove that an exception is being made for organizations such as Hamas, who actively promote the killing of Israelis, the company is likely to face extreme embarrassment in the court of public opinion, no matter what the outcome of the suit is.

The betting among legal observers is that Facebook will try to settle the suit quickly, undertaking to be more proactive in removing content from groups like Hamas which conduct terrorism against Israelis. The damage to its brand that would be inflicted by a lengthy court battle would far outweigh the cost of a court settlement.

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