The families of three victims of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Facebook, Twitter and Google for allegedly providing “material support” to the Islamic State.
Shooter Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS before the shooting in June, which left 49 dead and another 53 injured.
The lawsuit, filed in Michigan and first reported by Fox News, the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero argue the companies “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits.”
“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 lawsuit claims.
These platforms have banned accounts with ties to terrorist groups in the past, but keep them free from these messages altogether has proved to be an ongoing challenge.
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As of August, Twitter had suspended some 460,000 accounts linked to terrorist groups since mid-2015, Bloomberg reports.
Keith Altman, the attorney for the three families, argues that almost immediately after an account is banned a new one pops up in its place. He notes that there is a two-way financial street due to the business models employed by the platforms.
“The defendants create unique content by matching ISIS postings with advertisements based upon information known about the viewer,” Altman said. “Furthermore, the defendants finance ISIS’s activities by sharing advertising revenue.”
At the center of the legal question lies the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. In particular, Section 230. It 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.”
“Section 230 is a free pass to online service providers as long as they act only as a pass-through,” Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University Of Buffalo School Of Law, told Fox. “If you set up a place for people to talk, but don’t communicate on it yourself, then you are basically immune from prosecution.”
Altman is also representing the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, the only American killed in the Paris attacks, in a similar lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google, which was filed in June of this year.
“Life has not been easy for me or my whole family,” Juan Guerrero, one of the victim’s fathers told Fox. “It is something I remember and have to live with every day.”
Courts have been hesitant to hold platforms responsible for what others post to them, and a change in that precedent would likely result in a shakeup of current practices for social media companies.
“It would be a big change because it would be the first crack at making these companies liable for what shows up on our feeds,” Bartholomew said. “It’ll be interesting to see how big that crack is, because right now it’s a door without many cracks.”