Families of three of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting victims have filed a federal lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter, and Google for allegedly providing “material support” to ISIS. The lawsuit was filed in the eastern district of Michigan by the families of Tevin Crosby, Juan Ramon Guerrero, and Javier Jorge-Reyes. The suit was filed by Keith Altman of the firm 1-800-Law-Firm.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a security guard, opened fire inside of Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. During the attack, Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Mateen was shot and killed after a three-hour standoff by the Orlando Police Department. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single individual to that point in United States history. Mateen called 911 before the attack to claim allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), although an investigation by the CIA later said there were no links between Mateen and ISIL.
The lawsuit reads in part as follows.
“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 suit alleges that because the three social media giants pair content with advertising, they are liable for what users post on their services, saying the following.
“They create unique content by combining ISIS postings with advertisements in a way that is specifically targeted at the viewer. Defendants share revenue with ISIS for its content and profit from ISIS postings through advertising revenue… Although defendants have not created the posting, nor have they created the advertisement, defendants have created new unique content by choosing which advertisement to combine with the posting.”
The major hurdle that this lawsuit and its allegations have to overcome is how a provision in the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 is worded. Section 230 says the following.
“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.”
Basically, this means that as the Act is currently interpreted, none of the social media conglomerates are liable for what any user posts on its site. According to this interpretation, if you set up a place for people to communicate, but don’t use it yourself, you are not liable for discussions held there.
However, because Facebook uses confidential algorithms that tailor advertising to a user’s specific posts and content, the lawsuit alleges that they not only have information about terrorist activities, they profit from it. Keith Altman, the lawyer representing the three families, claims that Facebook, Twitter, and Google create unique content by matching ISIS posts with advertisements based on information that the three gather from posts made by users. Altman also contends that because of ad-revenue sharing programs, Facebook, Twitter, and Google also help finance ISIS.
In the past, courts have usually upheld the current interpretation of the CDA, not wanting to hold companies liable for content posted on their various sites.
The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation, although the suit fails to specify an amount.
This is not the first time that Altman’s firm has filed a lawsuit of this sort. They also filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of Nohemi Gonzalez, an American citizen who was killed in the November, 2015, attacks on Paris by ISIS terrorists. That lawsuit also named Facebook, Twitter, and Google as defendants, citing many of the same precedents, although Altman added the ‘unique content’ portion in a bid to make the lawsuit different from the previous one.
None of the three companies named as defendants have issued statements in response to this latest suit, although Twitter responded to an earlier suit by saying that it has responded to concerns about terrorists using the social network.
[Featured Image by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images]