Loss In 9th Circuit Appeals Court Isn't Slowing 1-800-LAWFIRM's Lawsuit Crusade Against Social Media Companies
from the 'I-have-not-yet-begun-to-lose!'---800LAWFIRM-rep-probably dept
1-800-LAWFIRM’s oblique assault on Section 230 continues. This firm, along with Excolo Law, have been behind several Plaintiff v. Social Media lawsuits seeking to hold Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. responsible for acts of terrorism. The legal theories are as terrible as they are long-winded. In an effort to route around Section 230 immunity, these firms have tried to portray the mere existence of terrorist groups on social media platforms as active material support for terrorism by tech companies. But Section 230 itself is also targeted, just in case the plaintiffs happen to luck into a federal judge willing to punch holes in immunity.
So far, none of these efforts have been successful. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court recently rang up another loss for 1-800-LAWFIRM, finding none of its arguments credible. Unfortunately, it did not go so far as to reaffirm Section 230 immunity, limiting itself to 1-800-LAWFIRM’s novel legal theories about the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). But, as Cathy Gellis noted in her coverage of the decision, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By focusing on the ATA, Section 230 remains undamaged, and doesn’t draw the attention of enterprising politicians who might try to “do something” (terrible) to keep terrorists from using social media platforms.
Unfortunately, terrorists continue to kill and injure people, providing these law firms with clients hoping to extract payment from tech companies as compensation for death and injury caused by terrorists. As Eric Goldman notes, the Ninth Circuit loss has had no deterrent effect, apparently. But this loss possibly explains why the latest lawsuit [PDF] has been filed in Illinois, rather than in California (where the social media defendants are headquartered) like the law firm’s previous attempts. Illinois is the plaintiff’s home state, which gives the venue switch some legal grounding. More importantly, it moves the battle to the Sixth Circuit, where 1-800-LAWFIRM has yet to be shut down at the appellate level.
The lawsuit is exceedingly long. It runs 128 pages and 663 paragraphs. Is it worth reading? Not really. Not unless you really need a blow-by-blow account of social media use by terrorists over the years, occasionally punctuated with things like this, presumably to remind the judge there’s a personal injury lawsuit buried in all this exposition.
ISIS used and relied on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity, including the terrorist attacks in which ISIS murdered 130 individuals and injured Mandy Palmucci.
The lawsuit contains the usual bad assertions about content moderation, or perceived lack thereof. It claims YouTube could easily police the hundreds of thousands of hours of footage submitted every day. The same goes for Twitter, which supposedly should be able to maintain strict control of millions of tweets flowing from its platform daily. It cites one “expert” who claims terrorist content could be as easily monitored as child pornography but glosses over the part where the current CP monitoring system was years in development and required active participation of multiple law enforcement agencies from around the world. And, unlike child porn, there are several reasons “terrorist content” could remain live, considering its use to journalists, activists, and law enforcement investigators.
The whole thing redefines the word “active” to mean ad placement by algorithm or copycat “terrorist” accounts springing up on social media services to replace those shut down by platforms. The legal reps would like the judge to believe that any terrorist content anywhere on these platforms is evidence of material support for terrorism. It’s a ridiculous argument and it’s unlikely to end up in the hands of a sympathetic judge, no matter which circuit it’s filed in. The Ninth Circuit decision may not be precedential in this circuit, but it can still be instructive. Someone may still find a way to damage Section 230 immunity by linking it to worldwide terrorism, but it won’t be these lawsuits.