SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Twitter is partly responsible for a fatal attack by the Islamic State since it failed to stop terrorists from recruiting and raising money on its network, a widow claims in a federal complaint.
Tamara Fields sued Twitter on Wednesday, claiming the network’s refusal to block Islamic State propagandists directly contributed to a Nov. 9, 2015, attack in Amman, Jordan, in which her husband Lloyd “Carl” Fields Jr. was shot and killed.
“Without Twitter, 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 complaint states.
The widow says Al Furqan and Al-Hayat Media Center, two propaganda wings of the group known as ISIS or ISIL, used Twitter to recruit Westerners and broadcast videos and images of beheadings and other “brutal forms of executions” to nearly 20,000 followers.
ISIS had an estimated 70,000 Twitter accounts, at least 79 of which were “official,” posting 90 tweets per minute as of December 2014, Fields says in the complaint.
The lawsuit cites statements by FBI Director James Comey, who said ISIS “perfected” its use of Twitter to inspire small-scale attacks, “crowdsource terrorism” and “sell murder.”
Fields says the brand of terrorist propaganda broadcast on Twitter directly inspires “lone wolf” attacks, like the one that killed her husband.
Her husband traveled to Jordan in June 2015 as a government contractor through DynCorp International, working at the International Police Training Center in the Muwaqqar district of southeast Amman – a U.S. State Department-run facility.
Carl, a former deputy sheriff in Louisiana, was training policemen from Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories on basic policing and security skills.
One of the men studying at the training center was 28-year-old Jordanian police captain Anwar Abu Zaid, who smuggled an assault rifle with 120 bullets and two handguns in his car. On Nov. 9, Abu Zaid shot a truck moving through the facility, killing an American, then entered the cafeteria, where he shot and killed four people eating lunch, including Carl.
ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its al-Battar Media Foundation.
Before last year, Twitter maintained a mostly “hands-off” approach to policing content, pledging not to censor any speech unless users complain certain tweets violate the network’s rules.
The lawsuit cites comments made by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who said in June 2014: “If you want to create a platform that allows for the freedom of expression for hundreds of millions of people around the word, you really have to take the good with the bad.”
In April 2015, Twitter updated its policy to prohibit direct threats of violence against specific groups and individuals and speech that promotes violence against others, including terrorism. The company said it was testing a new tool that would allow it to identify suspected abusive tweets and limit their reach.
Despite the new policy and enforcement tools, Fields says, many ISIS-related accounts are still found easily on Twitter, which still permits organizations designated by the U.S. government as terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, to maintain official accounts.
Twitter “does nothing” to stop ISIS groups such as Asawitiri Media from “springing right back up” after its accounts are shut down, according to the complaint.
That ISIS group relaunched hundreds of accounts by simply changing the number at the end of its user name each time an account was closed.
“When its account @TurMedia333 was shut down, it started @TurMedia334. When that was shut down, it started @TurMedia335,” the complaint states. Citing The New York Times, the complaint says that Asawitiri Media has had 335 Twitter accounts. It used one of them to taunt California after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.
Some technology experts, including Dartmouth College Computer Science Department Chairman Harry Farid, who co-developed a child pornography tracking tool with Microsoft, say Twitter could do more to stop terrorists from using the network to raise money for weapons and recruit killers, according to the complaint.
“Twitter is not doing enough,” SITE Intelligence Group Director Rita Katz said in a statement quoted in the complaint. “With the technology Twitter has, they can immediately stop these accounts, but they have done nothing to stop the dissemination and recruitment of lone wolf terrorists.”
Fields accuses Twitter of two counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization in violation of federal law.
She seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory and treble damages for violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and costs.
She is represented by L. Tom Fisher, with Bursor & Fisher, of Walnut Creek and New York City.
Twitter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
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