Families still grieving from the Orlando nightclub shooting filed a federal civil suit against Twitter, Facebook and Google Monday, according to reports.
The relatives of the victims argue that the three web platforms “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits,” reports Fox News.
The three deceased men of the families who filed the legal complaint in the Eastern District of Michigan were Tevin Crosby, 25, Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, and Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22.
“Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” the lawsuit states, according to Fox News.
Mateen, 29, pledged allegiance to ISIS prior to opening fire inside the Pulse nightclub in June. He ultimately murdered 49 people, and wounded 53 others before eventually being killed by a member of a responding SWAT team. The tragedy is widely considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Life has not been easy for me or my whole family,” Juan Guerrero, the father of one of the victims, said. “It is something I remember and have to live with every day.”
“Mateen was radicalized by ISIS using the defendants tools for that express purpose,” Keith Altman, the lawyer for the three families, told Fox News.
Suing these tech companies, though, may prove difficult due to constitutional rights and legislation already on the books.
“The primary obstacle to this suit is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a safeharbor for an ‘interactive computer service,’ such as Twitter or Facebook,” Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, told The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF). “Beyond Section 230, the First Amendment serves as a significant barrier.”
Blackman cited a case called Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in which organizations were accused of providing legal advice to foreign groups the U.S. government considered terrorists. The reason the Supreme Court permitted the prosecution under the First Amendment is because the defendants “knowingly” provided help. Blackman points out that this will be difficult to prove with Facebook, Twitter and Google, especially since these companies, for the most part, use algorithms.
Daniel Lyons, associate professor at Boston College Law School, agrees with Blackman, saying that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “provides that interactive computer services are not to be treated as publisher or speaker of material posted by another information content provider.”
“This isn’t the first time that victims have tried to sue social media sites for facilitating communication among terrorists,” Lyons told TheDCNF. “But US law pretty clearly insulates them from liability.” (RELATED: Facebook Is Being Sued Again Because Terrorists Use Its Services)
Lyon argues that if liability rested on the social media providers, then they would have to “screen and filter every posting before it goes live, which is expensive and could make the service cost-prohibitive.” He also highlights the likelihood that users don’t want Facebook and Twitter exercising editorial discretion over what is posted and what isn’t. (RELATED: Bereft Father Files Lawsuit On Social Media Giants Over Paris Attacks)
“Those lawsuits are going nowhere. Service providers can’t be held liable just for providing accounts to bad speakers who would use the accounts to convey bad messages. See, e.g., Fields v. Twitter,” Eugene Volokh, professor at the UCLA School of Law, told TheDCNF. (RELATED: EU Threatens Massive Internet Censorship If Big Tech Won’t Come To Heel)
“And that’s a deliberate choice by Congress, aimed at protecting free speech (even at the expense, common with free speech, of tolerating harmful speech) — if service providers were liable, they would be subject to powerful pressure to suppress not only speech by actual terrorists, but also any speech that someone claims promotes crime (even if in fact the speech does not do so),” Volokh concluded.
Volokh represented Google several years ago in writing a commissioned white paper on the First Amendment rights of search engines.
These companies have expressed that they are doing everything they can to weed out the communication capabilities of terrorists, while also maintaining free speech rights. Twitter announced in August that it shut down more than 235,000 accounts related to terrorism in the prior six months.
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