Suing Social Media Sites Over Acts Of Terrorism Continues To Be A Losing Bet, As 11th Circuit Dumps Another Flawed Lawsuit
from the this-isn't-making-anything-any-better dept
People suing Twitter and Facebook for acts of violence committed by terrorists have yet to talk a court into agreeing with their arguments. Utilizing federal anti-terrorism laws as a way to circumvent discussion of First Amendment and Section 230 issues has worked to a certain extent. It may not have handed any wins to plaintiffs, but it has prevented precedent that would work against these clients (and their law firms — both of them) when attempting to define “insanity” through repeated failure.
Via Eric Goldman comes another loss in court for plaintiffs attempting to sue social media companies over an act of terrorism, in this case the mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida nightclub that appears to have no ties to any organized terrorist group.
Despite being given multiple attempts to convert the complaint into something actionable, the plaintiffs failed to do so. This is largely because social media companies aren’t even indirectly responsible for acts of terrorism. More specifically in this case, the Pulse Nightclub shooting wasn’t even, legally speaking, an act of international terrorism. That means there’s no cause of action under the plaintiffs’ legal vehicle of choice, the Anti-Terrorism Act.
From the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision [PDF]:
We are deeply saddened by the deaths and injuries caused by Mr. Mateen’s rampage, but we agree with the district court that the plaintiffs failed to make out a plausible claim that the Pulse massacre was an act of “international terrorism” as that term is defined in the ATA [Anti-Terrorism Act]. And without such an act of “international terrorism,” the social media companies—no matter what we may think of their alleged conduct—cannot be liable for aiding and abetting under the ATA.
The shooter was an American citizen. He “self-radicalized” with the alleged assistance of social media platforms. He pledged allegiance to ISIS while barricading himself with hostages following the shooting. ISIS arrived shortly thereafter to claim it supported the shooting and the shooter. But there’s nothing “international” about this. And the Appeals Court isn’t willing to read the ATA as expansively as the plaintiffs choose to.
The Pulse shooting… did not transcend national boundaries in terms of the persons it was “intended to intimidate or coerce.” The plausible inference from the plaintiffs’ allegations is that a mass shooting on United States soil is meant to terrorize American citizens and residents. To come to the contrary conclusion we would have to say (or infer) that any act of domestic terrorism, anywhere in the world, is meant to intimidate or coerce all of humankind. And if that were the case, we doubt that Congress would have included this limiting language in the ATA.
Because these claims fail to carry the lawsuit, the court takes no note of the Section 230 and First Amendment implications. That’s a bit unfortunate because dismissing lawsuits under ATA and state law claims hasn’t stopped these law firms and lawyers from filing multiple, nearly identical lawsuits attempting to hold social media companies directly responsible for violent acts committed by their users.
At some point, these issues may be addressed at the federal court level. But today is not that day. And if people still believe this is indicative of Section 230’s faults, they should apprise themselves of the unavoidable fact that Section 230 does not immunize social media companies from allegations of federal law violations. Yes, it’s almost impossible to sue terrorists for violent acts, but suing social media platforms won’t actually result in justice, either.