Twitter Not Liable for Terrorist Use of Its Site

The Internet Law Resource Center™ is the complete information solution for practitioners in cyberlaw. Follow the latest developments on ICANN’s gTLD program, keyword advertising, online privacy,...

By Alexis Kramer

Aug. 10 — Twitter Inc. can't be held liable under federal law for allegedly allowing the Islamic State group—known as ISIS—to use its social network to spread propaganda, raise funds and recruit fighters, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled Aug. 10 ( Fields v. Twitter Inc. , N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-00213, 8/10/16 ).

Plaintiff Tamara Fields, the widow of a terrorist victim, argued that Twitter isn't entitled to federal online publisher immunity because her claims are based not on the content of ISIS' tweets but rather on Twitter's provision of accounts to ISIS in the first place (21 ECLR 692, 5/11/16).

But under Fields' theory, Twitter would still be liable for granting permission to post content, merely by providing accounts, Judge William H. Orrick said. The court dismissed the complaint but granted Fields leave to amend.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, protects online publishers against liability for content produced by others, as long as they are performing traditional publisher functions and aren't content providers themselves.

‘Provision of Accounts' Theory

Fields, whose husband was killed in the Nov. 9, 2015 terrorist attack in Amman, Jordan, alleged that Twitter's provision of services to ISIS constituted material support for terrorism in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2331.

Twitter moved to dismiss on grounds that Fields sought to hold it liable for third-party content (21 ECLR 521, 4/13/16).

Fields responded in a court filing that the creation of Twitter accounts occurs separately from the creation of published content, and thus Twitter's provision of accounts can't be characterized as publishing activity.

The court said Fields' allegations didn't describe a theory of liability based on Twitter's mere provision of accounts to ISIS. “Plaintiffs allege not just that ISIS had approximately 70,000 Twitter accounts, but that ISIS used those accounts to post at least 90 tweets per minute,” the court said. The complaint was also filled with detailed descriptions of ISIS-related messages, images and videos that were posted on Twitter, the court added.

The court said that even if Fields' provision of accounts theory was alleged in the complaint, the claim would still seek to hold Twitter liable for third-party content. Despite the theory being based on Twitter accounts instead of tweets, the alleged violation is still derived from Twitter's status as publisher, the court said.

“As horrific as these deaths were, under the CDA Twitter cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker of ISIS' hateful rhetoric and is not liable under the facts alleged,” it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at

For More Information

Full text at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.