Woman Files Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Twitter For 'Providing Material Support' To ISIS

from the not-how-it-works dept

Over the past year or so, there has been some people questioning if merely tweeting could be considered “material support for terrorism.” Taking things to another level altogether, Tamara Fields, whose husband (a government contractor for DynCorp International) was tragically killed in an ISIS strike late last year, has now sued Twitter for providing “material support” for ISIS.

Let’s be clear on a few things: I can’t even imagine the horrors of having your loved ones killed that way. It is horrible and tragic, and the pain must be unfathomable to those who have not gone through it. But, at the same time, that’s not Twitter’s fault no matter how you look at it. The full lawsuit, filed in California by lawyers who should know better, makes a number of ridiculous assertions, including the idea that the rise of ISIS would have never happened without Twitter.

Without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the mostfeared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible. According to the Brookings Institution, ISIS ?has exploited social media, most notoriously Twitter, to send its propaganda and messaging out to the world and to draw in people vulnerable to radicalization.? Using Twitter, ?ISIS has been able to exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it, by disseminating images of graphic violence (including the beheading of Western journalists and aid workers) . . . while using social media to attract new recruits and inspire lone actor attacks.? According to FBI Director James Comey, ISIS has perfected its use of Twitter to inspire small-scale individual attacks, ?to crowdsource terrorism? and ?to sell murder.?

Is ISIS fairly adept at using Twitter? Sure. Does that mean that it wouldn’t have become the group it’s become today? That’s ridiculous. The rest of the complaint takes a number of statements, concerning Twitter’s support for free speech rights totally out of context, including repeatedly relying on quotes from individuals who haven’t worked for Twitter in years. It also quotes people whining that Twitter should do more as evidence that the company has a legal obligation to do more.

The lawsuit is going nowhere. First of all, considering that it’s a civil lawsuit, Twitter is totally and completely protected by Section 230 of the CDA that says the company is not liable for how people use the platform. That’s enough to end the case right there. The case will almost certainly be tossed pretty quickly based on 230. Even if that wasn’t the case, the claims in the lawsuit that Twitter does basically nothing to stop terrorists are laughably untrue. In fact, ISIS has been issuing death threats against the company and its execs because they’ve been removing accounts.

On top of that, many have actually been complaining that Twitter goes too far in these efforts. Hell, just a couple weeks ago, the company accidentally shut down the account of a guy people mistakenly thought was ISIS’s leader, despite actually being a strong supporter of democracy and freedom, who just happened to have the same last name.

Too many people seem to think that there’s some magic wand that Twitter can wave that’ll make ISIS “disappear” from the service. It doesn’t work that way. The law certainly doesn’t require that. And while Twitter does proactively look to take down accounts that are advocating for terrorism, that doesn’t mean it’s even possible, or reasonable, that it can find every one. Targeting Twitter for a lawsuit just smacks of a Steve Dallas lawsuit, where upset people sue a large company barely involved in things, because that’s where the money is.

Finally, over and over again, intelligence officials keep claiming that the fact that ISIS folks are tweeting and Facebooking is actually one of the best ways to keep track of what they’re doing and saying. Shutting them down may seem appealing, but actually could decrease the ability to track them and their activities.

Either way, this lawsuit is dead on arrival. It will get tossed out thanks to Section 230. The lawyers who filed it should have known better. Yes, the situation is tragic and horrible and unfortunate. But it’s not Twitter’s fault — and suing the company over it just looks ridiculous.

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Companies: dyncorp, twitter

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Comments on “Woman Files Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Twitter For 'Providing Material Support' To ISIS”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps the outsized impact has something to do with the outsized ‘zomg terrorists!’ rhetoric.

I feel for her having lost her husband, but I think the bar should file a complaint against these lawyers capitalizing on her pain for headlines. She is going to reap nothing from this but more pain when someone finally explains the law doesn’t offer her satisfaction she is seeking (FSM help us if the court decides to humor her and make the world a better place by ignoring the law.)

Our leadership likes to pretend they had nothing to do with the rise of ISIS, and that others can just do something to make it all better. People accept this magical thinking as factual and think everything will now be better because of a soundbite or a lawsuit. We no longer engage in rational thought & refuse to accept that complex things can’t be solved in 4 sweater changes, 3 commercial breaks, & some sage words of wisdom.

I feel bad for her, and I hope someone can penetrate her pain & explain how this case was never going to go anywhere. That she will be forever linked with a stupid lawsuit demanding the deepest pocket she could find should pay her for her loss. That the lawyers who took this case forward don’t care about her husband, ISIS, or terrorism they just used her to try and raise their profile.

DannyB (profile) says:

Material Support

If using twitter counts as material support, then let us start a list of things that should also count as material support. (This list is also useful for anyone needing a list of contributory copyright infringers. Facilitators and Enablers.)

The electricity company.

All ISPs and internet backbones between Twitter and its users.

The big telecoms upon whose leased lines these ISPs are built.

Grocery stores where terrorists buy their food.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


I have had a problem with this notion since I started hearing about it recently, so I went looking to see what it actually means. Wikipedia has an extensive discussion that brings up a few point I think are worth considering. For example:

“(3) Deliberate fear mongering by the media; used to create a “witch-hunt” & “media-blitz” style propaganda attack on a specific race, ethnic-group, religious group, organization, or creed, under the guise of repetitive, veiled, and subversive tactics of Social Engineering; as was the case previously when terms such as “WMD”, “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, “Anthrax”, “Jihadi”, Jihadist”, “Fundamentalist, were used in an attempt to justify war or some type of military action.”

which points to the governments overuse of the term terrorist as a catalyst in the radicalization process of everyone, not just those that fall prey.

Also from that article:

“The radicalization process

Despite being composed of multifarious pathways that lead to different outcomes and sometimes diametrically opposed ideological purposes, radicalization can be traced to a common set of pathways that translate real or perceived grievances into increasingly extreme ideas and readiness to participate in political action beyond the status quo. To quote Shira Fishman, a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, “Radicalization is a dynamic process that varies for each individual, but shares some underlying commonalities that can be explored.”[11] Though there are many end products of the process of radicalization, to include all manner of extremist groups both violent and nonviolent, a common series of dynamics have been consistently demonstrated in the course of academic inquiry.”

That the process varies for each individual is of note as people who do not participate in social media (which includes Twitter) can get radicalized, but even if radicalized their reaction may not be violent or nonviolent but extreme from some points of view. An extreme position just means that it might be opposite of yours. I would use politics as an example of opposites, but the parties are not far enough apart to point to any meaningful references.

So as Mr. Beckman points out in the post above, joinder might include those members of the US government who toss the word terrorist around sufficiently to be terroristic or radicalizing in their own behavior. Still, the suit is sad in that the only people who will get anything out of it are the lawyers.

katmai (profile) says:

it's hilarious how stupid all of you can be

yeah i skimmed through all comments and you all are just a bunch of naive idiots.

“hey let’s sue spoons because ISIS eats with spoons”

no that’s not on the same level as facebook and twitter allowing gruesome videos of beheadings and propaganda on their sites because “freedom of speech” and “to condemn them”. you people are idiots, there is no condemning going on, there is just free advertising for them.

your main issue and your stupidity is that you think the ISIS people think the same way you do, which is totally wrong.

– You think there’s common sense, laws involved, rules of war ? Fuck no, they just want you dead at all costs because you’re “infidels”

– You think because you’re accepting the refugees, and amongst them – there will be terrorists no doubt – you believe they will embrace the western lifestyle ? Fuck no, they hate it and they want it gone.

You people are morons, if there’s any factor that has helped ISIS and all terrorists gain traction, it’s been social media, recruiting weak people to fight and die in their crusade of getting everyone back to the stone ages.

Stay ignorant though, because you are underestimating how even more stupid that you other people can be. God this is a sad comment. It’s unreal that you are so damn gullible.

Just to make it clear in case you straws for brains didn’t get it: if facebook/twitter didn’t promote terrorist videos (which they do, because drama is money, people sharing gruesome videos = money) then you would have these terrorist fuckers clueless because they would only get some exposure in the corners of the web where only sick people end up, a small audience and that would pretty much be it. No newspapers no nothing.

Anyway that’s enough from me. You idiots will probably not even understand a thing i am saying and you will still wave your peace flag or whatever the fuck you think values are common between normal people and people willing to kill themselves to kill other people just because they don’t believe in the same imaginary friend.

dumbasses …

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: it's hilarious how stupid all of you can be

You are the one being ignorant.

Ignorant of the concepts of freedom, free speech, free society. One does not live up to those ideals by denying those ideals to others. By limiting of deciding that one group can have free speech but another can’t. By declaring those who I like can have these rights, and those who I don’t like can’t. One lives up to those ideals by extending those ideals to others irrespective of their beliefs and culture.

Thoughts, beliefs, ideas, words, knowledge, information are not evil or good. Disseminating such is not good or evil. They just are. It is ACTS that are good or evil.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: it's hilarious how stupid all of you can be

your main issue and your stupidity is that you think the ISIS people think the same way you do, which is totally wrong.

I haven’t seen anyone make that claim. Can you show me where that claim was made?

Our main issue is with abusing the legal system to go after a third party who didn’t break any law.

Anyway that’s enough from me. You idiots will probably not even understand a thing i am saying and you will still wave your peace flag or whatever the fuck you think values are common between normal people and people willing to kill themselves to kill other people just because they don’t believe in the same imaginary friend.

Do you even know what the post is about? From the paragraph above, it does not appear that you do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: it's hilarious how stupid all of you can be

then you would have these terrorist fuckers clueless because they would only get some exposure in the corners of the web where only sick people end up, a small audience and that would pretty much be it. No newspapers no nothing.

Most of your comment is broadly correct – although rather intemperate for my taste.

However this bit is dead wrong (and sadly this is the only bit that is relevant to the article..

I’m sorry – these people don’t get radicalised because of facebook and twitter allowing these gruesome posts. By the time they are looking at that stuff they are already well radicalised. The real culprits are the Islamic texts (Quran, Hadith and Sira) which contain many direct exhortations to violence. Insofar as the internet is to blame it is much “softer” Islamic websites that lead people in that are the problem. Also the influx of Saudi money into the Islamic infrastructure in the west has resulted in the promotion of a version of Islam that is much closer to the terrorist one than what was there before.

We can’t easily stop this without trashing our own values in the process – but maybe if facebook twitter et al stopped their Poitically Correct censorship and allowed more speech that is critical of Islam we might get somewhere.

What we need to stop radicalisation is less censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: it's hilarious how stupid all of you can be

Anyway that’s enough from me. You idiots will probably not even understand a thing i am saying and you will still wave your peace flag or whatever the fuck you think values are common between normal people and people willing to kill themselves to kill other people just because they don’t believe in the same imaginary friend.

What would you suggest? More going to war over there? Because that’s worked out so well for us so far…

The key to learning is figuring out what DOESN’T work, and then not repeating it.
But then again, stupidity like yours is running rampant in this country right now. Presumably because all you know how to do is shoot at things you don’t like.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Laws written broadly

Twitter may be exempt under 230 of the CDA but the material support law is rather broad.

This is true, but on the civil suit side, Twitter is totally protected. If the gov’t were to file criminal charges concerning material support… that would be different. CDA 230 wouldn’t protect against that (though common sense hopefully would).

John85851 (profile) says:

Sanction the lawyers

Mike, are you a lawyer? 😉

Follow me for a minute: If Mike isn’t a lawyer and he knows Twitter is protected under Section 230 of the CDA, then what about lawyers who DO know the law?
Even if we assume they don’t “know better” and they’re going after Twitter for the money, they should be slapped down and sanctioned by the judge.

The only way to stop lawsuits like this is to start sanctioning the lawyers who think they can wring money out of large corporations.

Christenson says:

Re: Sanction the lawyers -- or sue them..

I hope Tamara Fields reads techdirt and sues her lawyers for manifest incompetence. The ambulance-chasers deserve it!

As to Isis: If you want peace, work for justice…and understand just what ISIS is really all about. Put yourself in their shoes: Whose home has all the foreign troops on it and the fighting? Who, on average, is dying, having been killed by whom? Where were those weapons manufactured?

Bees! says:

Re: Sanction the lawyers

FL lawyer here with a few years in Federal court.

Not licensed in district court in CA, but am licensed in district court in southern FL. The CA district court has to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure all the same, so I can comment on what resources are available.

The most elementary recourse would be Rule 11, which places sanctions against attorneys themselves for filing frivolous lawsuits. Federal case law also establishes that the court has an inherent power to regulate attorney behavior before it, so the court does not necessarily need to rely on Rule 11 either.

Go read up Judge Wright’s legendary Prenda order to see a laundry list of disciplinary measures that may be available. Not all of them would be at play here, and Prenda is an extreme case involving malfeasance that wouldn’t be at play here, but it will help you understand what the Federal court can do.

katmai (profile) says:

bla bla and bla, yet another ignorant moron that thinks “the other side” adheres by the same rules that normal people do. flash news – they don’t. keep drinking the kool-aid tho. you will come around when this stuff will affect you anyway, because all you idiots are good keyboard warriors when nothing touches you, however if someone you know or someone from your family dies or gets affected because of these idiots you will do a 180 in seconds alright. (i honestly wish you no harm, i just wish you stopped being so stupid).

if you think this is all just calling names, you already missed the point anyway, which proves my point that you’re a bunch of morons. I was just using that instead of puctuation signs and w/e.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“…if someone you know or someone from your family dies or gets affected because of these idiots you will do a 180 in seconds alright.”

Which is a logical and understandable reaction when you’re in a state of intense grief. It doesn’t mean you’re right, it means your judgement is highly impaired.

The very same social media that you claim is such an effective ISIS recruitment tool (highly debatable) is also a great educator for everyone opposing them. Freely available info works both ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

that’s how we got the patriot act implemented by the government using fear of 9/11 happening again to restrict the rights of millions of Americans to stop terrorism from ever happening again.

Yet that same terrorism keeps happening since its funded and supported by the very governments that are publicly waging war to stop it.

I am sure you don’t care about that. Only that the government says its bad so you focus on that and not what they are doing that’s just as bad if not worse.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How well did that work out for the Romans?

It turned teh empire into a more civilised place (eg stopped the brutal games in the colosseum).

It kept the Eastern Empire going for another 1000 years or so and guaranteed the preservation of many major monuments (such as the Pantheon) in Rome itself.

So I’d reckon it worked out pretty well for Rome.

Christianity was a smallish cult before the Romans actively suppressed it

Actually no – in spite of the popular image most of the growth of Christianity happened during times when there was little no persecution. Christianity would have spread whether persecuted or not. During the final persecution under Diocletian many Christians who had joined in peaceful times denied the faith to save their skins.

New ideas often attract persecution (cf Gallileo, Darwin etc) but their spread is not necessarily a consequence of it.

Streisand type effects are real but they don’t explain everything on their own.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:

^This. Suppression might draw attention to an individual or group but that alone is not enough to maintain interest. The target of suppression must be interesting in and of itself in order to gain support and momentum.

Christianity is self-replicating and offers grace; that’s what pulls people in.

thejynxed (profile) says:

This case & Twitter

Some points:

1) The lawyers know that Twitter is exempt under 230 of the CDA, but they are bringing this in front of a judge to get that judge to say “This isn’t the proper venue, please take this upstairs to the Federal Circuit.”, so that when the real lawsuit is filed, they have the ruling of this judge to use for standing.

2) Twitter could do much more to remove ISIS accounts, as even Facebook and some other social media sites remove them much, much faster when notified of their existence. Twitter relies too much on their semi-automated reporting system that requires a multitude of reports before an account is suspended and not nearly enough on employee eyeballs and filtering technology.

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