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Combining advertisements with posts created by the Islamic State group doesn’t make Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Facebook Inc., or Twitter Inc. content creators under a federal online publisher immunity law, the companies argued in federal court ( Crosby v. Twitter Inc. , E.D. Mich., No. 2:16-cv-14406, motion to dismiss filed 3/10/17 ).
The companies moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the families of three victims in the June 2016 Orlando, Fla. nightclub attack, in which 49 people were killed. The gunman had pledged allegiance to ISIS, according to Bloomberg News. The families argued the companies violated the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2333, by allegedly providing services to the group. The plaintiffs alleged that although the companies didn’t create the content ISIS posted on their platforms, they’re still liable for it because they chose which ads to couple with certain posts.
The case highlights the broad protections of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and the various ways families of terrorism victims have tried to overcome them. Online publishers are protected under Section 230 of the law against liability for content produced by others, as long as they are performing traditional publisher functions and aren’t creating content themselves.
Google, Facebook and Twitter said the plaintiffs failed to show the companies changed the meaning or purpose of the third-party posts by allegedly displaying ads near them. The companies also argued the ads didn’t materially contribute to the alleged illegality of the posts.
The companies contended they don’t lose Section 230 immunity based on the allegation that they derive revenue from displaying third-party content. “To hold that such a service loses § 230 immunity if it displays ads alongside user-generated content would erroneously create a for-profit exception” to the provision, the companies said in a court filing.
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