Federal Court Dumps Another Lawsuit Against Twitter For Contributing To Worldwide Terrorism

from the legal-definition-of-insanity dept

The lawsuits against social media companies brought by victims of terrorist attacks continue to pile up. So far, though, no one has racked up a win. Certain law firms (1-800-LAW-FIRM and Excolo Law) appear to be making a decent living filing lawsuits they'll never have a chance of winning, but it's not doing much for victims and their families.

The lawsuits attempt to route around Section 230 immunity by positing the existence of terrorists on social media platform is exactly the same thing as providing material support for terrorism. But this argument doesn't provide better legal footing. No matter what approach is taken, it's still plaintiffs seeking to hold social media companies directly responsible for violent acts committed by others.

Eric Goldman has written about another losing effort involving one of the major players in the Twitter terrorism lawsuit field, Excolo Law. Once again, the plaintiffs don't present any winning arguments. The California federal court doesn't even have to address Section 230 immunity to toss the case. The Anti-Terrorism Act allegations are bad enough to warrant dismissal.

Here's what the court has to say about the direct liability arguments:

The FAC [First Amended Complaint] plausibly alleges that ISIS used Twitter to reach new followers, raise funds, and incite violence. It also adequately alleges that Twitter knew ISIS-affiliated users were posting these communications, and that it made only minimal efforts to control them.

Nevertheless, the direct relationship link is missing. Most of the allegations are about ISIS's use of Twitter in general. The relatively few allegations involving Twitter that are specific to the attacks that killed plaintiffs' family members also provide little more than generic statements that some of alleged perpetrators of the attacks were "active" Twitter users who used the platform to follow "ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts" and otherwise "communicate with others." Nothing in the FAC rises to the level of plausibly alleging that plaintiffs were injured "by reason of" Twitter's conduct. Consequently, the direct ATA claims are dismissed.

The indirect liability route doesn't fare any better:

The FAC does not allege that Twitter was "aware" that it was "assuming a role in" the terrorists' attacks in Europe. See id. It does not allege that Twitter encouraged ISIS to carry out these attacks or even knew about them before they occurred. At most, the FAC alleges that Twitter should have known ISIS was planning an attack and that it ignored the possible consequences of letting terrorists operate on its platform. That is in effect an allegation of recklessness, but JASTA [Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act] requires more. Although plaintiffs are correct that Congress referred in its statement of findings and purpose to those who "knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources" to terrorists, JASTA § 2(a)(6) (emphasis added), the plain language of Section 2333 reaches only those "knowingly providing substantial assistance." 18 U.S.C. § 2333(d)(2). This clear statutory text controls.

There's no plausible conspiracy claim either. If this argument was given credence by the court, Twitter would be a co-conspirator in any criminal activity carried out by its users.

Nothing in the FAC establishes an agreement, express or otherwise, between Twitter and ISIS to commit terrorist attacks. Plaintiffs point to Twitter's terms of service that every user is subject to, but while that clearly is an "agreement," it is hardly relevant to a terrorist conspiracy. No other plausible agreement is mentioned in the FAC.

The plaintiffs are given one more chance to amend their complaint, but these are allegations that can't be massaged into victorious arguments. The problem that continues to be talked around in these lawsuits is that you cannot hold a social media platform responsible for the actions of its users. If the plaintiffs drop the ATA arguments, they're just going to run into Section 230 immunity. While the acts of terrorism were horrific and drastically affected the lives of the families of those killed, suing Twitter, Facebook, et al over these acts doesn't do anything for the plaintiffs but take time and money away from those who've already lost loved ones.

I'm not suggesting the law firms engaging in these lawsuits are lying to plaintiffs about their chances or encouraging futile litigation. I certainly would hope they aren't engaged in any of the above because that would mean they're preying on hurting people to earn income. But this steady stream of lawsuits -- much of it emanating from two law firms -- seems to suggest a level of intellectual dishonesty that's especially unseemly given the underlying circumstances.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 4:54am

    Tim,

    Up late or early?

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 5:40am

    ...it's still plaintiffs seeking to hold social media companies directly responsible for violent acts committed by others.

    No, not even nearly that direct. It's plaintiffs seeking to hold social media companies directly responsible for people theoretically enticing people who might possibly have the right ideology to be encouraged to commit violent acts, into being recruited to commit violent acts.

    It's so remote it comes down to, "You're letting people of a religion I don't like discuss politics."

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:35am

      Re:

      More like lawyers trying to convince social media companies that it is cheaper to pay them to make them go away than to win in court.

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:37am

        Re: Re:

        Copyright trolls use the same logic, and look what’s happening to them now.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 11:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Perhaps, but it's worth noting that it took years before the legal system even began to wake up to their actions.

          For a lawyer looking to make a quick buck with basically no risk sending 'pay us to go away' letters is still very much a safe bet.

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

  • identicon
    Random coward, 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:04am

    But twitter is a large company, and this poor family was hurt and is now looking for a handout. How can the courts be so dismissive, i mean there were terrorists involved, frankly im astounded that home depot sold nails tobterrorists, thry had a moral obligation to know what the nails were going to be used for. How could chick fil-a have sold sandwhiched to terrorists? Surely they should be sued as well.

    Lets be honest, most law suits seem to be filed as lottery tickets these days. It really isnt much different than being mugged. The lawyers and judges are complicit because half of them get paid by muggers. I mean trolls, i mean poor victims of terrorism, who arent at all looking to get rich by dragging their loved ones name through the mud.

    In all honesty, if i was hiring and i saw you filed a lawsuit like this, i would never consider hiring you.

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

    • identicon
      MathFox, 9 Oct 2018 @ 7:10am

      Well, Tim writes about these lawsuits because they are exceptional and relevant to free speech on the Internet. There are thousands of "Determine damages after car accident" lawsuits a year, but Techdirt does not seem to find them relevant for its audience.

      So yes, there are some lawsuits filed on shaky grounds. There are many more filed on good grounds to resolve business conflicts (that would have been solved cheaper in a friendly discussion).

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 8:31am

        Re:

        "Well, Tim writes about these lawsuits because they are exceptional and relevant to free speech on the Internet"

        I would say "vital" rather than merely relevant. There is no way that anybody could run a service on the internet if you could be held liable for the actions of others not directly to the service you provide.

        *Any* communication method can and will be misused - which is the same as it was pre-internet. It's only now that communications providers are supposed to be bother omnipotent and arbiters of what's acceptable.

        Thankfully, some people do still seem to have retained common sense, rather than doing the equivalent of trying to shut down the phone company because they weren't listening to their customers' calls closely enough.

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

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 10:27am

        Re: Relevance

        There are thousands of "Determine damages after car accident" lawsuits a year, but Techdirt does not seem to find them relevant for its audience.

        Because they aren't relevant to this website - a discussion of the intersection of tech and speech issues?

        I applaud you bringing this to our attention, please link to your website with the correct articles.

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 3:43pm

          Re: Re: Relevance

          You missed the point. He isn't saying they should be covered. He's saying they are appropriately not covered, and the prevalence of terrible lawsuits in the pages of Techdirt is not an indicator of the overall quality of all lawsuits filed.

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 9 Oct 2018 @ 7:17am

      Re:

      Lets be honest, most law suits seem to be filed as lottery tickets these days. It really isnt much different than being mugged. The lawyers and judges are complicit because half of them get paid by muggers. I mean trolls, i mean poor victims of terrorism, who arent at all looking to get rich by dragging their loved ones name through the mud.

      That is what Tim is complaining about. All we need is a few bad rulings and it's goodbye, Social Media.

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

  • identicon
    Avideogameplayer, 9 Oct 2018 @ 6:57am

    'Someone has to do something!'

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Oct 2018 @ 8:33am

    If only there was some sort of body that would punish lawyers who create these cases they know will fail but collect the cash from clients victimizing them twice.

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

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 9 Oct 2018 @ 9:37am

    Sue the post office

    The post office is responsible for maany mail bombs, death threats, illegal items etc being transported. Sue the post office, right? People have expressed pretty extreme views and the post office always blindly supports them by not reading the mail.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 12:44am

      Re: Sue the post office

      That's exactly why this is so ridiculous - and people should see that. But, for some reason people think that internet companies are magically omnipotent and benevolent and therefore should be tasked with things they'd never have asked of previous media. In fact, there's specific rules in place to *prevent* those companies doing what's been demanded of social media companies.

      Unless I'm mistaken, nobody was suing the mail service for delivering Unabomber packages, or suing airlines when their passengers are found to have been smuggling drugs. Yet, internet companies are now meant to be directly responsible for actions that take place several steps removed from the service they provide. It's strange, but at least sane heads are still in power over these things... for the moment, anyway.

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

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 9 Oct 2018 @ 12:05pm

    Justa Thought

    If twitter can go after alex jones simply for his ideas, it can go after people who're fundraising and organizing murder for their barbaric "god".

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

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 6:27am

    Material Support

    Given the crazy theories behind why social media is supporting terrorism by 'allowing' terrorists onto their sites, if the logic is valid then we're all in trouble.

    We pay taxes (or else) that pay for roads. Terrorists (among many, many others) use roads to travel. Therefore, we are all guilty of materially supporting terrorism!

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

  • identicon
    Tang, 10 Oct 2018 @ 3:14pm

    Their lawyers suck

    Twitter's business partners include Alwaleed bin Talal and Jamal Khashoggi. Their investors include members of Soliya an "intercultural understanding" group that sends US policymakers to Qatar to listen to terrorists in exchange for Qatari financing of the Brookings Institute.

    Twitter management is directly linked to financiers of terrorism. The lawyers who cannot dig up this information are not doing their jobs. To establish the double standard, Twitter bans journalists who report on Shaun King but won't ban terrorists unless the government forces them to or the media attention makes them look bad.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 10 Oct 2018 @ 4:03pm

      Re: Their lawyers suck

      Which of those people at the Qatar conference are terrorists? And I notice the references in the story about bans are broken links, and the images are missing. All we're left with is the word of some person on the internet.

      However! It does appear that Ibn Talal (or his company anyway) has invested in both Twitter and Fox News' parent company, and given money to Al Qaeda. Not a great look. But of course it has nothing to do with this particular case unless these unsavory business associates have something specific to do with the Twitter messages in question. If the messages are specifically tied to Ibn Talal, and he gave money to both Twitter and Al Qaeda, you could possibly have a case there. Otherwise the fact that this guy is funding terrorism doesn't make Twitter responsible for the terrorist acts of some other people who used Twitter to communicate about those acts.

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


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