Lenny Pozner and his family moved from Connecticut to Florida after his 6 year-old son Noah was killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting. Pozner had hoped for some peace, but that's far from what he got.
Since his son died, Pozner says he's been constantly harassed by people who believe the shooting never happened. “Hoaxers,” he calls them.
Wednesday marks the fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Last week, the federal Department of Justice indicted Lucy Richards, 57, of Tampa for threatening Pozner.
According to a federal indictment, Richards left voicemails for Pozner in January, telling him, "Death is coming to you real soon." She now faces four charges that could land her 20 years in jail. For Pozner, the charges are a relief.
“I was very glad that she's finally facing consequences for what she had done,” he said.
Pozner says Richards was an extreme case, but certainly not the only one. He blames the Internet for enabling hoaxers to spread misinformation about Sandy Hook and its victims on a global scale.
“I will get 15-year-old, 20-year-old kids telling me that I'm going to get tried and imprisoned for treason and, you know, how much money did I make off of this, and it's a lot of hate,” he said. “They are absolutely certain that they are in the right, and they are part of this army of light.”
Pozner says four years after the shooting, the situation has only gotten worse.
“The only thing that I've noticed, there are more web sites, there are more people, and they're more brazen and they're more comfortable with making these fantastical claims,” he said.
Pozner first tried to address the hoaxers by helping people who were de-bunking Sandy Hook conspiracy theories. But when it became clear some people would just never be convinced, Pozner switched gears.
He started the HONR Network. It's working to remove false claims about Sandy Hook and other mass shootings from the Internet. The organization targets websites like Facebook and Google as well as their advertisers. The task has not been easy.
“Sometimes they'll take something down, and sometimes they just won't,” Pozner said. “And if they don't, there's nothing you can do about it. You can't even reply to their email that says, ‘We've decided not to take this down,’ because if you reply, you'll get a bounced email back that says, ‘This email address doesn't receive emails.’"
Pozner says sometimes, those automated emails hurt more than hoaxers' hateful posts.
“It's kind of getting the door slammed in your face after you've been re-victimized, not just by the hoaxer, but now it's ongoing re-victimization by Facebook, by YouTube, by Google,” he said. “That's the stress.”
A number of Internet and social media companies have adjusted their policies in recent years in an effort to crack down on hate speech. But the rules in place to define what constitutes “hate speech” as opposed to "free speech" are often vague, allowing many harmful posts to slip through the cracks.
“I think companies like Facebook and Google and Twitter should be more accountable,” Pozner said. “Because they are responsible for creating this cyber superhighway that these haters travel down. So it's just the Wild West right now.”