The families of three victims from the jihad attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando have filed suit against Twitter, Google, and Facebook for allegedly providing “material support” to the Islamic State.
Specifically, Reuters reports that the families accuse those social media giants of providing ISIS with “accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds and attract new recruits.”
The lawsuit argues this support has been “instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out or cause to be carried out, numerous terrorist attacks.” The gunman who murdered 49 people at the Pulse club, Omar Mateen, swore allegiance to ISIS during the attack.
According to Reuters, Twitter and Google declined to comment on the case, while Facebook expressed sympathy for the victims and pointed to efforts it takes to remove terrorist-supporting accounts as quickly as possible.
The suit was filed in Detroit by the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes, and Juan Ramon Guerrero. The Orlando Sentinel notes Crosby was a native of Michigan, while Jorge-Reyes’s sister lives there.
“I think public opinion will simply not tolerate these companies taking this laissez-faire attitude anymore,” said the family attorney, Keith Altman of “the Michigan firm 1-800-LAW-FIRM.”
He insisted the undisclosed amount of money sought by the plaintiffs was a “secondary issue,” and the suit was mostly about “other families not having to bury their loved ones.”
The Orlando Sentinel notes that Altman’s firm is also involved in a very similar suit filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, an American killed during the ISIS attack on Paris in November 2015.
Legal experts seem dubious that the lawsuit will succeed, noting that the Communications Decency Act protects companies like the social media providers from being held responsible for content created by their users.
The novel theory of these lawsuits is that the combination of such user-generated content with the advertisements automatically supplied by Facebook, Twitter, and Google becomes new content that the publisher can be held accountable for. Reuters points out the lawsuit claims Facebook, Google, and Twitter are actually sharing revenue with ISIS because they generate advertising profits from the posts ISIS uses to raise money for itself.
“While they didn’t create the ad, and they didn’t create the posting, by putting those things together, they created specific unique content,” Altman explained, as quoted by The Washington Post.
“It’s creative, it’s bold, but I don’t think he’s going to succeed under the fed anti-terrorism statute that he cites,” communications law attorney J.B. Harris told the Orlando Sentinel. He then suggested that a more straightforward negligence claim based on the presumed responsibility of Internet publishers to protect their customers from harm might have a better chance — if filed locally in Florida courts, rather than Michigan.
J.M. Berger of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism told The Washington Post the suit was similar to suing a telephone company because one of their handsets was used to hire a contract killer.
Another potential hurdle mentioned by the Sentinel is that little hard information has been released as to the exact process of Omar Mateen’s radicalization, making it difficult to link specific content from individual Internet providers to his actions.