SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A lawsuit accusing Twitter of providing material support to terrorists has serious flaws that must be fixed before it can move forward, a federal judge said Wednesday.
Lead plaintiff Tamara Fields sued Twitter in January, claiming the social media network’s failure to stop terrorists from using its platform contributed to a terror attack that killed her husband in Jordan last year.
In March, Heather Creach and her two children, who lost their husband and father in the November 2015 attack, were added as plaintiffs.
Fields said messages broadcast on Twitter by Islamic State terrorists inspired “lone wolf attacks” like the one that killed her husband, private military contractor Carl Fields, at a police training center in Amman, Jordan on Nov. 5, 2015.
In its motion to dismiss, Twitter said the plaintiffs offered no evidence that the killer, 28-year-old Jordanian police Capt. Anwar Abu Zaid, had been recruited on Twitter or that he used the network to plan, carry out or raise money for the attack.
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 recruit Zaid.”
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 of 1996.
But plaintiffs’ attorney Joshua Arisohn said that because direct messages are not published, they fall outside the protections of that statute.
“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.
After about 40 minutes of debate, Orrick ended the hearing, saying he would dismiss the lawsuit with leave to amend.
Also this week, Twitter, Google and Facebook became the target of a similar lawsuit, from the family of a woman who died in the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015.
- SoCal Ponzi Man Gets|10 Years in the Slammer
- No Charges for Death in Dallas Jail Lobby