Families of Terrorist Attack Victims Keep Suing Twitter


Twitter Inc. has been hit with its fourth lawsuit in a year alleging that it knowingly provided material support to the Islamic State group.  The families of terrorist victims continue to sue the social network despite one court having already ruled that federal law bars the claims.  

In a case called Cain v. Twitter, relatives of victims of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks argue that Twitter allows IS to use its social network to spread propaganda, raise funds and recruit fighters.  Twitter’s provision of services constitutes material support to terrorism in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2333, the plaintiffs alleged in a complaint filed Jan. 8 in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York.

A Twitter spokesman told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 13 that the company condemns the use of its site to promote terrorism.  The “Twitter Rules make it clear that this type of behavior, or any violent threat, is not permitted on our service,” he said.

Meanwhile, the father of the Paris terrorist attack victim in Cain also sued Twitter in a separate lawsuit in California, which has been stayed pending the disposition of an estate administration case. The other two complaints against Twitter concerned the terrorist attacks in Amman, Jordan and Orlando, Fla. 

A California court ruled in the first of the lawsuits, Fields v. Twitter, that Twitter couldn’t be held liable under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, because the claims were based on content produced by IS members—not Twitter.

The plaintiffs of the first three lawsuits have tried a number of ways to avoid the online publisher immunity defense provided by Section 230.  Arguments include that the claim is based not on the content of IS’s postings but on Twitter’s provision of accounts to IS, and that Twitter combined IS’s postings with advertisements to create its own content.

The Cain plaintiffs don’t appear to be taking that route. Their claim is based on an allegation that Twitter violated federal criminal laws in providing services to IS. It’s up to the New York court to determine if the claim is based on third-party content, or if Section 230’s federal criminal law exemption will come into play.