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