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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  • identicon
    Anomalous Cowherd, 15 Jun 2016 @ 9:44am

    I'm suing Techdirt for letting me comment here because I'm a bad person and I shouldn't be forced to read the stupid things I say on this website!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 9:46am

    Can we sue the printers of the Quran?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 9:56am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:01am

    Hey... this is the end result of the PC culture.

    If you say something they don't like, you can be sued!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kisama (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:01am

    I used to agree...

    But now I think this is a brilliant idea. My thinking here is if this opens the door to suing the manufacturers of the AR-15 rifle for the Orlando attack and all the other mass shootings for their "material support" then it's for the greater good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      scotts13 (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:08am

      Re: I used to agree...

      You ARE kidding, right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:12am

        Re: Re: I used to agree...

        I took it as "If bad people use social media and social media can get sued. Then if bad people use guns then gun manufacturers can get sued."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:18am

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

          That is the correct logic here.

          And lets just go to the end of it all, we should be able to sue Obama for letting Gun Manufactures exist. He needs to shut them down.

          This is the sickness that is socialism. Everyone BUT the person being bad is to blame!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anomalous Cowherd, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:24am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:43am

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

              "You don't start with an assumption and then try to mold the argument to prove the assumption."

              Standard Operating Procedure.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:57pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2016 @ 5:49am

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

                "yet only a few thousand nutjobs go around shooting each other."

                Why do we incarcerate thousands for minuscule pot possession and let thousands of known nut jobs with known problems roam free?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Wendy Cockcroft, 16 Jun 2016 @ 7:32am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2016 @ 3:37pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:54pm

      Re: I used to agree...

      then we can sue god for making people inherently violent, or just the pope since he is the representative of god.\

      Why take responsibility for anything when we can just blame someone else and sue them

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:20am

    Toyota - Truck of choice for ISIS

    So, when is Toyota going to be sued for providing vehicles to ISIS?

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/us-officials-isis-toyota-trucks/story?id=34266539

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:37am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      That Anonymous Coward 2, 16 Jun 2016 @ 3:10am

      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...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Jun 2016 @ 9:27am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:39am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:49am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DannyB (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:36am

        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?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark Harrill (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:30am

    Telephone Providers and Carriers

    Why didn't they go after the phone makers and carriers that the terrorists used to communicate and plan their attack? They provided the same kind of material support that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube did right? And they've got deep pockets...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:59am

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:38am

    Apparently nobody noticed,

    that these services are typically more surveillable than the ones they replaced.

    I mean these guys could just run a private IRC server on a foreign VPS they bought with a stolen credit card, and access it only over SSH.

    Oh, oops. Sorry TD. Didn't mean to aid and abet on your dime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 11:50am

    don't forget to sue the cell phone companies, allowing those terrorist to communicate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 12:00pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gracey (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 12:18pm

    Wait! They forgot linkd-in, instagram, snapchat, whatsapp, et al.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 1:35pm

    One Stop Lawsuit

    Just sue the Internet and get it over with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:47pm

    Google getting sued? This can only be a good thing. Someone needs to take those monopolists down a notch or two.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2016 @ 10:56pm

    It is a cash grab nothing more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 Jun 2016 @ 2:03pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sam, 17 Jun 2016 @ 2:43am

    Like taking away guns because terrorists use them!

    Terrorists are using Twitter? No law abiding citizen needs Twitter, we need Twitter control, to many people dead because of Twitter!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    oldschool (profile), 17 Jun 2016 @ 5:45am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2016 @ 3:38pm

    Frankly, I disagree with this completely but love it

    So many people want to sue gun mfgs so if they can be held liable, so can social media or anyone else frankly. So dragging them into the fight will help ensure the 2nd amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    X, 17 Jun 2016 @ 7:47pm

    I am suing you all...

    You all post on the internet and it is because of everyone of you that everything happens to everyone.

    So....I have hired a prestigious Washington D.C. law firm and am suing everyone in the world for Ten Hundred Billion Dollars BECAUSE BENGHAZI!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Defiant, 20 Jun 2016 @ 9:26am

    These social media sites SHOULD be held to account...I mean, gun companies are sued...why not these Leftist companies? They scrub their sites of ANY Conservative and patriotic pages...and allow TERRORISTS to keep active pages! It's beyond ludicrous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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