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.

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Companies: facebook, google, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Twitter, Facebook & Google Sued For 'Material Support For Terrorism' Over Paris Attacks”

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45 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

The difference between a world with Twitters, Facebooks and Googles and without them in terms of terrorism is that with those platforms it is visible. Without it is not. With the added benefit that with those platforms you can counter their insanity with more speech and people in general have great platforms to express themselves, activism or not.

But no, let’s freak out and try to shoot the messengers because of a tiny little bit of the population that are complete morons and happen to use religions to justify their idiocy. It is sad they use the same tools we do but for their twisted purposes. Thankfully we (still) don’t blame kitchen knives manufactures for murderers using their products. I kind of like to cook and it would be kind of hard to cook without those.

Anomalous Cowherd says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I used to agree...

This has nothing to do with Obama since he would shut them down if he could. It’s the Republicans in Congress and the NRA lobby that prevent reasonable and effective gun control laws to get passed.

This also has nothing to do with socialism. You seem to be wanting to find fault in certain things/people for issues that are unrelated just because you don’t like Obama or socialism or what you perceive as PC culture.

Hint: You don’t start with an assumption and then try to mold the argument to prove the assumption. You look at the information that is available and form a conclusion based on what is known rather than assumed or manipulated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I used to agree...

there will never be a lack of guns for criminals to get access to. Even if every citizen had their gun rights removed, the military, police and private security guards would all have access to guns. Some of those guns would be stolen or sold to criminals.

An ideal society would be where no one has access to guns no matter who they, but that will never happen.

The next best thing imo is to let people have guns to defend themselves. there are what millions of gun owners in America, yet only a few thousand nutjobs go around shooting each other.

Did you not notice that most of these massacres happen in “gun free zones” which do absolutely nothing save make people targets instead of being allowed to defend themselves against criminals that will never follow anti gun or gun free laws.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I used to agree...

There was at least one security guard at Pulse. Omar Mateen waved to him as he went in to kill people. I assume this guard was a good guy with a gun. So… where were the good guys with guns till the authorities arrived?

Every time a situation like this unfolds, the armed people don’t immediately turn the gaff into a John Woo movie for some reason. Maybe it’s because reality doesn’t work the way your fantasies do; the good guys with guns could easily be mistaken for bad guys with guns, am I right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I used to agree...

I find it hard to believe you are serious. Outlawing alcohol didn’t even slow it down. In fact it gave rise to the mob. Outlawing drugs hasn’t even slowed it down, you can get them on every street corner in the country. Outlawing guns will be no different. All the liberal magic thinking in the world won’t make them go away. What it will do is actually lead to more gun crime because now the criminals will have no worries about people defending themselves.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How many videos & accounts has the father located and reported?
By not doing that work, does he see himself providing material support?
Or is he, at best, a grieving father who just needs to lash out or, at worst, a money grubbing asshole fanned along by a lawyer who is sure they can outlaw the law for a nice payday?

The internet is not magical.
There is no wand that makes all the things you think are bad go away.

Rather than trying to assign blame to anyone with deep pockets, perhaps time would be better spent looking at how the polarization of the “Us vs Them” mentality where skin color alone is enough to enflame bias might add weight to the propaganda hitting home that we do hate all of them and are deserving of bad things.

People condemn entire religious groups, based on the actions of a few assholes. They are then amazed when people in that religious group might listen to words telling them to fight back. We could pretend it was just religious groups if not for the fact that skin color is often the only test used by assholes who attack people for perceived terrorist ties. (See also: Number of attacks on Sikh’s & Sikh’s put off planes)

Perhaps blaming people with the deepest pockets is just an easy way to stop looking in the mirror at the horror we helped create.

That Anonymous Coward 2 says:

Re: The Anonymous Coward

“How many videos & accounts has the father located and reported?
By not doing that work, does he see himself providing material support?
Or is he, at best, a grieving father who just needs to lash out or, at worst, a money grubbing asshole fanned along by a lawyer who is sure they can outlaw the law for a nice payday?”

You have crossed the line into serious stupidity

“Perhaps blaming people with the deepest pockets is just an easy way to stop looking in the mirror at the horror we helped create”…..? You know nothing about this msn snd the grief he must be enduring. blaming the victim is the easy way out but you do it with such a lack of intelligence and style that you are actually not even smart enough to be a troll…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Anonymous Coward

Not really, he is demanding others take actions he himself is unwilling to undertake. He expects them to wave a magic wand because he imagines its simple, because he can’t see outside of his own pain.

He wants the deep pockets to make it all better.
At no point did I blame the victim who died in a senseless attack or the agencies charged with protecting them who failed miserably.
Holding the internet responsible is stupid.

DannyB (profile) says:

The solution SEEMS so simple

Why can’t GooFaceTwit simply find all the ${ terrorist | piracy | communist | Streisand } content and remove it?

How hard can that be?

The real problem is scalability. GooFaceTwit cannot have one human censor for each of its human users. (BTW, then we really would have the situation in Romania where half the population actually was constantly spying on the other half.)

If you scale back to a system where users report abuse, and those reports are investigated, and even if every single one of them is genuine and results in removal, you are still never going to find all of the ${ terrorist | piracy | communist | Streisand } content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The solution SEEMS so simple

Censoring things is stupid, but since it is being addressed …

The real problem is defining exactly what content meets the requirement(s), seems it would be a moving target depending upon who is talking at any particular time. Can not please all the censors all the time, better to just delete all of it.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: The solution SEEMS so simple

Well, yes. But I was addressing a different point.

Whatever it happens to be, at the moment, that is today’s choice for censorship, the problem is scalability.

Suppose tomorrow all LOLCat videos are to be censored? Do you think GooFaceTwit can just magically locate them all?

Couldn’t subversive people who want to exchange evil and unpatriotic LOLCat videos find a way to do so, despite US laws against, and GooFaceTwit policies against such monsterous things?

Then what about the next day when the new bogeyman is dog shaming videos? Or beer recipies which don’t even require videos and can be exchanged as text, even using code words and euphemisms to describe what they are doing?

Even if you have a Report button on GooFaceTwit, how could you handle the scale of the problem? Shouldn’t GooFaceTwit be protected even when people post illegal LOLCat videos once they become unlawful?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Telephone Providers and Carriers

Yes. I was going to go deeper/bigger though: Weren’t they driving BMW’s? Using Samsung Phones? Accessing the home internet using a linksys router? EATING OREO’S for sustenance?

And how much did the toilet paper company become complicit in these crimes? ALL TERRORISTS USE TOILET PAPER! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED WHAT TO LOOK FOR!

TechDescartes (profile) says:

The Death of Section 230 Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

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.

No, it didn’t. Complaining that Section 230 was undermined is like complaining that your “Get Out of Jail Free Card” was undermined because you still had to pay rent for landing on Boardwalk. The card isn’t “undermined”; you tried to use it for the wrong thing. Next time you land in jail, the card still will work fine.

To quote Mike: “As we’ve explained many times, Section 230 says that online services cannot be held liable for actions of their users (and also, importantly, that if those platforms do decide to moderate content in any way, that doesn’t impact their protections from liability).” In the Ninth Circuit case to which Tim refers, the plaintiff didn’t allege that the website should be liable for what was posted. Rather, the plaintiff alleged that the website should be liable under California law for failing to warn users that the website knew that non-users were impersonating legitimate users. The website’s Section 230 card didn’t work, not because it was “undermined”, but because they didn’t land on that space on the board.

Here, the plaintiff is seeking to hold the websites accountable for postings by users. My prediction: the defendants are in the Section 230 square on the board, they will play their Section 230 card, and they will win. Case dismissed.

P.S. As for the other case, I predict that it will get tossed on a new motion to dismiss because of the absence of the “special relationship” necessary to invoke the duty to warn. Analogy: yes, they landed on Boardwalk, but the plaintiff doesn’t own Boardwalk. So, no liability. Case dismissed.

John85851 (profile) says:

Sue Big Gun

If people can sue Big Tobacco over the willful deaths of smokers, when can people sun Big Gun over the deaths of people got shot? After all, AR-15 rifles are specifically designed to shoot and kill people. And the NRA has knowingly blocked legislation on the grounds that people’s 2nd Amendment rights over-ride people’s right not to get shot.

oldschool (profile) says:

social media lawsuits

Wasn’t the guy who set up Silk Road, the social media site where one could buy virtually anything, sent to prison for life?

Did he kill anyone? Did his site help to kill anyone? Did the use of his site help to kill anyone?

If this guy can be sent to prison for life, then Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. should be able to be held liable.

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