Twitter, Facebook & Google Sued For 'Material Support For Terrorism' Over Paris Attacks
from the like-suing-automakers-for-car-bombs dept
It’s an understandable reaction to tragedy. When faced with the unthinkable — like the death of a loved one in a terrorist attack — people tend to make bad decisions. We saw this recently when the widow of a man killed in an ISIS raid sued Twitter for “providing material support to terrorists.” Twitter’s involvement was nothing more than the unavoidable outcome of providing a social media platform: it was (and is) used by terrorist organizations to communicate and recruit new members.
That doesn’t mean Twitter somehow supports terrorism, though. Like most social media platforms, Twitter proactively works to eliminate accounts linked with terrorists. But there’s only so much that can be done when all that’s needed to create an account is an email address.
As difficult as it may be to accept, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc. are not the problem. Like any, mostly-open social platform, they can be used by terrible people to do terrible things. But they are not responsible for individual users’ actions, nor should they be expected to assume this responsibility.
Another terrorist attack and another death has prompted a similar lawsuit [PDF] from the father of Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the Paris terrorist attacks. The lawsuit contains a number of allegations, but every single one can be countered by Section 230. Reynaldo Gonzalez claims that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube all provide “support” for terrorism by both refusing to take terrorist-related content/accounts down and not proactively policing their platforms for terrorist-linked users.
The lawsuit contains several quotes from pundits, terrorism experts, and government officials about ISIS’s successful use of social media platforms. What it doesn’t contain, however, is anyone offering support for the lawsuit’s position: that social media platforms should be held directly responsible for terrorist attacks. But that’s the sole purpose of this lawsuit: to make the platforms pay for a death they had nothing to do with.
There are calls from government and law enforcement officials for these platforms to “do more” contained in the lawsuit as well. But if there’s anything we’ll never run out of, it’s government officials calling for “x non-government entity” to “do more” in response to [insert latest tragedy here].
As was pointed out earlier, Section 230 immunizes the defendants against lawsuits of this sort. And the fact that there’s no direct connection between the terrorist attack and Twitter/Facebook/YouTube’s actions means there’s no way for Gonzalez’s father to seek damages from these defendants for a terrorist attack carried out on foreign soil, as Twitter pointed out the last time it was sued for “providing material support for terrorism.”
Whether or not Section 230’s protections will hold up remains to be seen. This case has been filed in the Ninth Circuit, which just recently handed down a decision opening up service providers to new levels of liability if they fail to warn users about other, possibly more dangerous users. This isn’t exactly the best fit for the bad en banc decision, but with the circuit leaning that direction thanks to recent precedent, lower courts may be more willing to reinterpret Section 230 in ways that will make the internet worse.