Mother of Pulse victim says social media companies ‘complicit in some of these terror acts’

Christopher Leinonen, one of the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
Christopher Leinonen, one of the victims of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016. (thedruproject via Instagram)

One year after losing her son, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Christine Leinonen is not grieving, but instead working to ensure that such attacks never happen again. In addition to founding an educational nonprofit in her son’s memory, Leinonen is fighting against social media companies that she believes could do more to prevent such atrocities.

“I’ve already seen some of these social media groups voluntarily changing some of the ways that they police their content because they are complicit in some of these terror acts that are happening throughout the world,” Leinonen told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric on Monday, when asked what companies like Facebook and Twitter could do to stop their platforms from being used by terrorists.

“And they could stop that,” she added. “They have the ability. We don’t.”

Leinonen acknowledged concerns about online privacy, but insisted she knows that more could be done to monitor radical groups without violating the Fourth Amendment.

“We know that because it has been policed better when it comes to child pornography or sex rings,” Leinonen said. “They do a good job policing those activities, so the technology is in place so they could recognize certain numbers or sequences of numbers knowing that these groups want to wreak havoc on our populations all over the world.”

“The virtual world is not being policed like our real world,” Leinonen said. “We can’t have hate groups [in the real world]. They are located and they are destroyed. That’s what we do in the real world. But in the virtual world, what makes us think that we then cannot also try to locate radical groups?”

In December, Leinonen joined a lawsuit against Facebook and Twitter filed by the families of other victims slain in the Pulse massacre: Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero. The lawsuit alleged that the social media companies provided the Islamic State group a platform to recruit new members and pocketed advertising revenue from the posts. The Pulse gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged loyalty to ISIS during his attack, which killed 49 people in the gay nightclub before he was fatally shot by police.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to requests for comment from Yahoo News on Monday, but they have rejected such lawsuits in the past. “There is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity, and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us,” Facebook has said. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

During her interview, Leinonen went on to describe how hate groups and terrorist organizations “seduce” vulnerable individuals online and persuade them to commit atrocities. She believes that increased monitoring of social media would make such attacks less common.

“[Hate groups] try to wreak havoc on the population that has figured out how to have successful and wonderful and lovely lives,” Leinonen said.

She said her son’s life was “full of fun and full of energy.” Christopher went to the nightclub to dance with his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, who was also killed.

“I call them Romeo and Romeo because they were killed not because the two families, like in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ were not in favor of their young love, but because our society and part of this shooting was homophobic-based.”

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