Facebook, Google, and Twitter are facing a federal civil suit filed against them by the families of three Orlando shooting victims. The said tech companies are accused of providing “material support” to the Islamic State. Furthermore, the social media platforms become the means for the terrorist group to radicalize people around the world like the Orlando gay nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.
Fox News reported that the complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan by the families of the three Orlando shooting victims Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerero. The tech companies might have helped ISIS to spread “extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits”. The lawsuit states, “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 father of Juan Ramon Guerero told FoxNews.com that the tragedy “is something I remember and have to live every day”. The 29-year-old Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more back in June. He also did not survive as he was shot by a SWAT team. He added, “They have to do something to prevent these people from doing things like this.” However, it might be hard for the plaintiffs to win the suit against the tech companies. The problem is posed by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230.
The Section 230 has actually given a “free pass to online service providers as long as they act only as a pass-through,” according to Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law. Legally speaking, Facebook, Google and Twitter may not be hold accountable for providing the terrorist group a way to expand its reach through social media. Bartholomew added, “If you set up a place for people to talk, but don’t communicate with it yourself, then you are basically immune from prosecution.”
As for attorney Keith Altman of the Michigan law firm representing the plaintiffs, “I think public opinion will simply not tolerate these companies taking this laissez-faire attitude anymore.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the lawsuit seeks for monetary damages. Altman pointed out that the “money is a secondary issue”. Yazmin Jorge-Reyes, the sister of Javier Jorge-Reyes said, “We need justice.”
The fate of the case depends on whether the court will continue to uphold the First Amendment of free speech like it always did with other similar cases. Jeffrey Addicott, the director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law told the Christian Science Monitor, “It’s a battle between increased security and civil liberties.” If they actually win this case, Professor Bartholomew added that it will be the “first crack at making these companies liable for what shows up on our feeds”.
Genevieve Grdina, a spokeswoman for Facebook, told the Los Angeles Times that the company “does not allow users to post content that advocates terrorism, nor does it allow any posts from people it considers known terrorists”. She assured, “We take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us. We sympathize with the victims and their families.” Google and Twitter are yet to release a statement regarding the case.