CATF Reports Jun. 21, 2016, 3:44pm


Lloyd Carl Fields Jr. was working at the International Police Training Center in the Muwaqqar district in Amman, Jordan, training policemen from Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine on basic security skills when he was killed in an ISIS raid in November 2015. In January 2016, his wife Tamara filed a lawsuit against Twitter for allegedly offering terrorists a platform to communicate, recruit affiliates and raise money that “directly contributed” to the raid that killed her husband. Last week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco sided with Twitter’s claim that the mere action of opening accounts “and not necessarily using them to recruit” by ISIS affiliates did not constitute a basis for a violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and dismissed the complaint. Tamara Fields can revise her complaint and refile, and certainly her case signals a larger trend. Also last week, the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, one of the victims of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Google, and Twitter for their alleged support to the attackers’ fundraising efforts.

So far, courts have largely upheld legal immunity of service providers regulated by Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act of 1998, which clearly excludes the liability of service providers for their users’ actions. However, the beneficial role indirectly played by social media in support of the terrorist cause is sparking debate over the companies’ responsibility for allowing the publication of terrorist propaganda. In early, April Facebook publicly committed to enforce measures to halt weapons sales on its network. Over a year ago, Twitter announced that it was testing a new tool to identify and restrict suspected abusive tweets in addition to updating its policy to prohibit direct threats and speech promoting violence. Yet several authoritative voices are arguing that Twitter can do more to stop the dissemination of terrorist messages and the recruitment of new affiliates, especially vis-à-vis ISIS’ resilience - at least on social media.

From Courthouse News Service:

“U.S. District Judge William Orrick said the complaint fails to show a link between the social media network's actions and the attack that took five lives in Jordan.

"I just don't see causation under the Antiterrorism Act," Orrick said. "There's no allegation that ISIS used Twitter to recruit Zaid."

The plaintiffs also claimed that Twitter should be held liable because it allowed ISIS members to exchange private messages with potential recruits, terrorism financiers and each other.

Twitter responded that as a publisher, it is immune from liability for content posted by its users under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

But plaintiffs' attorney Joshua Arisohn said that because direct messages are not published, they fall outside the protections of that statute.

"The common definition of publisher is one who disseminates information to the public," Arisohn said. "If Congress wanted a broader definition for publisher, it could have made one."

Twitter attorney Seth Waxman replied that direct messages are covered under the 2009 Ninth Circuit ruling, Barnes v. Yahoo!, which found that entities cannot be held liable for content posted online by third parties. Finding otherwise would that mean every provider of email and direct messaging, such as Apple and Google, could be liable for content exchanged by their users, Waxman said.

Orrick was not persuaded that companies like Twitter could be sued for messages sent by users.

"Just because it's private messaging doesn't put this beyond the Communications Decency Act's reach," Orrick said.”

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