Google, Facebook, and Twitter Sued by the Families of the Orlando Shooting Victims

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 26, 2017

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GLBT Heart Google, Facebook, and Twitter are being sued by the families of three of the victims who were slain in the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub for allegedly providing “material support” to the Islamic State.

The Orlando Shooting

The past June, Omar Mateen opened fire inside Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Mateen’s attack was one of the deadliest shooting sprees in United States history, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. 

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency; however, it was later revealed that Mateen was not a member of ISIS, but was inspired by it and had pledged his allegiance to it.

ISIS maintains an active presence on Facebook and Twitter and also relies upon YouTube, which is owned by Google, to post propaganda messages and broadcast executions.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed on December 19, 2016 in federal district court in the Eastern District of Michigan by the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero.

According the suit, the defendants “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 outcome of the lawsuit may rely upon a provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230. Section 230 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.” This provision has been interpreted to mean that sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube cannot be held liable for the content that their users post on their sites.

Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University of Buffalo School of Law, has commented on Section 230, stating that it “is a free pass to online service providers as long as they act only as a pass-through.… If you set up a place for people to talk, but don’t communicate on it yourself, then you are basically immune from prosecution.”

While Section 230 of the CDA has protected social media sites in the past, some lawyers and academics have begun to argue that sites like Facebook may be violating the provision with their heavily-guarded algorithms. Attorney for the plaintiffs, Keith Altman, argues that “The defendants create unique content by matching ISIS postings with advertisements based upon information known about the viewer.… Furthermore, the defendants finance ISIS’s activities by sharing advertising revenue.”

The Response

Father to Ramon Guerrero, Juan Guerrero spoke to about the suit, stating, “Life has not been easy for me or my whole family.… It is something I remember and have to live with every day.”

Attorney Keith Altman is representing all three families. Altman has stated, “Mateen was radicalized by ISIS using the defendants’ tools for that express purpose.”

Facebook made a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying that its community standards barred groups from engaging in terrorist activity. Facebook stated, “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 have not responded to requests for comment.

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