Judge Dismisses Case against Facebook, Google, and Twitter over Shooting

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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: Jul 15, 2021

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A San Francisco federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Facebook, Google, and Twitter filed by victims and family members of victims of the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

As NPR reported, fourteen people were killed and 22 were injured when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot up a holiday office party for Farook’s colleagues who worked for San Bernardino County.

Self-Radicalized

According to the LA Times, the couple became “self-radicalized” by reading radical Islamic literature online.

On the day of the shooting, Malik went on Facebook and pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

ISIS later claimed responsibility for the massacre, even though it apparently had no actual contact with the killers.

A week after the attack, James Comey (then the director of the FBI) testified to the US Congress that social media had helped to radicalize the shooters, and that they were at least partly inspired by ISIS.

Propaganda

The plaintiffs filed suit in 2017, claiming that Facebook, Google, and Twitter

have knowingly and recklessly provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts to use its social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits.

The suit also claimed that

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.

Case Dismissed

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler ruled that although the social media companies were “generally aware that ISIS used their services,” there was no evidence that the companies “intended to further” terrorist actions.

Previous cases against social networking companies and other internet services providers (ISPs) have been dismissed because of laws which make ISPs immune for actions by their users in most cases.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provides immunity from liability for providers of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by third-party users:

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.

A defendant must satisfy each of the three prongs of the following test to gain the benefit of the immunity:

  1. The defendant must be a “provider or user” of an “interactive computer service” (such as a social networking site).
  2. The plaintiff’s cause of action must treat the defendant as the “publisher or speaker” of the harmful information at issue.
  3. The information must be “provided by another information content provider,” such as a user of the service. The defendant must not be the party directing posting the harmful information at issue.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ISPs are also usually not liable for intellectual property infringement by their users.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in the San Bernardino case has stated that he plans to file an appeal.

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