Victim Families Sue Over ISIS Use of Twitter, Facebook, Google

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By Alexis Kramer

The families of three victims in the June 2016 Orlando, Fla. terrorist attacks sued Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet’s Google Dec. 19 for allegedly allowing the Islamic State Group—known as ISIS—to use their sites to recruit fighters, raise funds and conduct operations ( Crosby v. Twitter , E.D. Mich., No. 2:16-cv-14406, complaint filed 12/19/16 ).

Although the defendants didn’t create the content posted by ISIS, they combined it with advertisements to create their own content for revenue purposes, the plaintiffs alleged in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The plaintiffs are seeking to hold the companies liable for an attack by shooter Omar Mateen at the Pulse nightclub, which left 49 people dead. Facebook and Twitter have been sued in a number of cases over the alleged use of their sites for terrorist purposes.

A California court previously ruled that Twitter couldn’t be held liable under federal law for similar claims because the claims were based on third-party content ( Fields v. Twitter Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-00213, case dismissed 11/18/16 ). 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.

The plaintiffs in the Michigan case are trying to show that the defendants are content providers and therefore not protected under Section 230.

A Facebook spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 20 that the company is committed to providing a service people can feel safe using. “Our Community Standards make clear that 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,” she said.

Spokespeople for Twitter and Google didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA requests for comment.

Content Creator?

The plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Facebook and Google provided services to ISIS, which constituted material support to terrorism in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2333. They argued that Section 230 doesn’t bar the claim because the defendants developed their own webpage content. While the defendants don’t create posts or ads, they choose which ads will appear with certain posts based on information about the viewers, the plaintiffs alleged.

“Defendants’ choice to combine certain advertisements with certain postings for specific viewers means that Defendants are not simply passing along content created by third parties,” the plaintiffs said.

1-800-Law-Firm PLLC represented the plaintiffs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at aKramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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