Twitter is not liable for ISIS activity on its service, judge rules

The use of social networks by terrorist groups has prompted lawsuits alleging material support

Twitter is not liable for providing material support to the Islamic State group, also referred to as the ISIS, by allowing its members to sign up and use accounts on its site, a federal judge in California ruled Wednesday.

The lawsuit against Twitter filed by the familes of two victims of a terror attack in Jordan is similar to another filed by the father of a victim of the Paris attack in November against Twitter, Google and Facebook for allegedly providing material support to terrorists by providing them a forum for propaganda, fund raising and recruitment.

These lawsuits accuse the Internet companies of violating provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act and and aim to deny the internet companies refuge under provisions of the Communications Decency Act, which protect publishers from liability for content posted to their site by third parties.

Citing the Act, Judge William H. Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California wrote in his order that “as horrific as these deaths were, under the CDA Twitter cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker of ISIS’s hateful rhetoric and is not liable under the facts alleged.”

Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In November 2015, Lloyd “Carl” Fields, Jr. and James Damon Creach were shot and killed by a Jordanian police officer, Anwar Abu Zaid, while working as U.S. government contractors at a law enforcement training center in Amman. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack by the police officer, who was studying at the center, describing him as a “lone wolf.”

The families of Fields and Creach filed the suit, claiming that Twitter’s provision of material support to ISIS was a proximate cause of the shooting. 18 U.S. Code 2339A and 2339B prohibit the knowing provision of material support or resources for terrorist activities or foreign terrorist organizations, and the term “material support or resources” is defined to include “any property, tangible or intangible, or service,” including “communications equipment,” according to the court papers.

Twitter’s alleged violations of the anti-terrorist laws cannot be accurately characterized as publishing activity, addressed by the Communications Decency Act, but rather as the provision of the means through which ISIS communicates, according to the victims' families. “Even if ISIS had never issued a single tweet, [Twitter’s] provision of material support to ISIS in the form of Twitter accounts would constitute a violation of the ATA,” they said in a filing.

The judge, however, noted that under either theory, “the alleged wrongdoing is the decision to permit third parties to post content – it is just that under plaintiffs’ provision of accounts theory, Twitter would be liable for granting permission to post (through the provision of Twitter accounts) instead of for allowing postings that have already occurred.” The judge added that he was not convinced that the provision of accounts theory treats Twitter as something other than a publisher of third-party content.

The families were also not able to establish a cause-and-effect link between Twitter’s provision of accounts to the ISIS and the deaths of Fields and Creach. The only arguable connection between Abu Zaid and Twitter that was identified is that his brother told reporters that Abu Zaid had been very moved by an execution by ISIS, which the group publicized through Twitter. That connection, however tenuous, is based on specific content disseminated through Twitter, not the mere provision of Twitter accounts, the judge noted.

In the other lawsuit filed against Google's YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the father of Paris terror victim Nohemi Gonzalez charges that the companies “have knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS [Islamic State group] to use their social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits.”

Social networks claim they are doing their best to weed out terrorist content though it is turning out to be like trying to whack-a-mole, with the proscribed content or new content resurfacing elsewhere. Twitter said in February that as noted by many experts and other companies, “there is no ‘magic algorithm’ for identifying terrorist content on the internet.

Judge Orrick allowed the families of the victims to file their second amended complaint, if any, within 20 days of his order.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?