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.

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Comments on “Suing Social Media Sites Over Acts Of Terrorism Continues To Be A Losing Bet, As 11th Circuit Dumps Another Flawed Lawsuit”

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12 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Not really surprised anymore

Given the prevailing debate about blaming social media platforms for every ill from the original sin going forward I’m not surprised at all to see every shady grifter encouraged to take a shot at making <insert platform name> pay them for any grievance real or imagined perpetrated on them by some unrelated party.

What I do not understand is the scarcity of politicians and judges willing to openly and heavy-handedly come down on such attempts. Surely they should realize that this shit will keep wasting public resources until someone’s told the children in the room that they can’t just point a finger at random people and tell them they owe them candy?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Not really surprised anymore

"What I do not understand is the scarcity of politicians and judges willing to openly and heavy-handedly come down on such attempts"

For lawyers it’s not a lucrative industry, For politicians, as soon as they do it their opponents will use that to claim they are pro-terrorism and get them to lose re-election.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: No logic (that makes sense anyway) involved whatsoever

For lawyers at least, it makes sense. It’s clear that there’s virtually no issue with being disbarred in most places no matter how idiotic the claim is, and win or lose you get to claim those billable hours. If you can get rid of those pesky morals that tell you that you’re just taking advantage of victims, it’s apparently a great living.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why aren’t the power and water companies being sued for failing to terminate their utilities to this unknown entity? Why not the car manufacturer (and possibly car lease company or alternatively the mass transit company), or the company that made his shoes, or the market he got his food from?

Surely they must all have known just as much as what the social media firms knew, while materially supporting him?

The gun companies are off the hook though, because the constitution is sacred…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The answer is the usual one – people above a certain age are familiar with those things but the internet is new and scary. Therefore if it’s involved it must be to blame. See: every new technology since the first apes worked out that you can use a bone to bludgeon as well as eat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Until recently, leasing companies were on the hook for accidents in New York. I think that changed 5 or 10 years ago but there was a time you could not technically lease a car in NY. Dealers/leasing companies found a work around for it. Holding the leasing company responsible was a response to those rich persons who had a chauffeur. There would be an accident and since owner would get out of any responsibility because they were not driving.

This is actually another example of mission creep on laws that get written to solve a specific problem and somewhere down the road are co-opted to be used in a situation that did not exist at the time the law was written.

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