Judge Doesn't Find Much To Like In 'Material Support For Terrorism' Lawsuit Against Twitter

from the doubling-down-on-wrong-does-no-one-any-favors dept

The lawsuit against Twitter for "providing material support" to ISIS (predicated on the fact that ISIS members use Twitter to communicate) -- filed in January by the widow of a man killed in an ISIS raid -- is in trouble.

Twitter filed its motion to dismiss in March, stating logically enough that the plaintiff had offered nothing more than conclusory claims about its "support" of terrorism, not to mention the fact that there was no link between Twitter and the terrorist act that killed the plaintiff's husband. On top of that, it pointed out the obvious: that Section 230 does not allow service providers to be held responsible for the actions of their users.

As reported by Nicholas Iovino of Courthouse News Service, the presiding judge doesn't seem too impressed by what he's seen so far from the plaintiff.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said the complaint fails to show a link between the social media network's actions and the attack that took five lives in Jordan.

"I just don't see causation under the Antiterrorism Act," [Judge William] Orrick said. "There's no allegation that ISIS used Twitter to recruit Zaid."

That deals a blow to one of the lawsuit's allegations. Orrick also didn't find the plaintiff's claim that Twitter direct messages are somehow different than regular tweets when it comes to Section 230 protections.

Orrick was not persuaded that companies like Twitter could be sued for messages sent by users.

"Just because it's private messaging doesn't put this beyond the Communications Decency Act's reach," Orrick said.

This was in response to the plaintiff's lawyer's assertion that because direct messages are not accessible by the public, Twitter couldn't avail itself of Section 230 protections as a "publisher." Twitter's lawyer countered by pointing out email providers are still considered "publishers" and they can't be held responsible for users' communications, even though those messages are never made public.

It only took about 40 minutes for Judge Orrick to reach a decision, albeit one that doesn't shut down this ridiculous lawsuit completely. The lawsuit has been dismissed, but without prejudice and with an invitation for the plaintiff to file an amended complaint.

Given the hurdles the plaintiff needs to leap (some logical, some statutory) to find Twitter responsible for the actions of terrorists halfway around the world, it's unlikely that an amended complaint will fix the seriously misguided lawsuit. The only people truly responsible for the plaintiff's husband's death are those who took his life. While it's an understandable emotional response to want someone to pay for the murder of a loved one, sometimes there's no way to receive that sort of closure.

Twitter isn't a closed platform developed solely for terrorists' communications. It's available to anyone with an email address… even terrorists. Twitter is routinely criticized for its handling of illicit material and abusive behavior, but the undeniable fact still remains: these unpleasant communications are created by users, not by Twitter. Any attempt to connect the dots between a terrorist attack and terrorist chatter is tenuous, and any attempt to hold platforms responsible for the actions of their users carries with it the potential to make the internet worse for millions of law-abiding users.

Filed Under: cda 230, material support, section 230, terrorism, william orrick
Companies: twitter

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jun 2016 @ 10:41am

    Re: Re: Re: We don't jail car manufacturers...

    I agree with this, but have two observations:

    1) Right now, if a gun manufacturer produces a weapon that is actually defective in some way that causes death or injury, they do have (and should have) liability for that.

    2) Additional safety standards (as with cars) seem like a good idea -- but it's wrong and dangerous to try to legally hold manufacturers to standards that don't yet actually exist. First things first.

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