SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit accusing Twitter of facilitating a terrorist who killed two United States contractors in Jordan last year.
Tamara Fields sued the social media site in January, accusing the company of contributing to her husband’s death, and that of four others, by failing to block ISIS propaganda on the network.
But Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said the plaintiff, who was joined in the suit by the wife of a second contractor murdered by the lone gunman, said they provided no evidence the killer was recruited via Twitter, or used the network to plan the attack.
Further, Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act states that providers of internet services cannot be held liable for content posted by users.
“I was not surprised at the outcome of the case,” said Eric Goldman, professor of law at Santa Clara University. “The case had obvious Section 230 challenges.”
Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute, told the Northern California Record that he was interested to see how the plaintiffs might argue around Section 230. They failed to do so, he said.
Other cases of a similar nature are before various courts, and each are “very serious legal challenges,” Goldman said.
“If the social media companies lose, every single victim of terrorism with a United States connection is going to be suing,” he said. “But I do not think the suits are likely to be successful.”
Goldman described the judge’s reasoning in the case as sound, and said his opinion will be likely influential in the other cases before the courts.
Fields’ husband Lloyd was shot dead at a State Department-run facility in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 9, 2015. Four others were also killed, including James Creach. Creach’s widow, Heather, and her three children joined the suit as co-plaintiffs in March.
Orrick said the plaintiffs delivered no evidence the killer, 28-year-old police Capt. Anwar Abu Zaid, was recruited on Twitter or used the network to plan, carry out or raise money for the attack.
Orrick also concluded Twitter was exempt from liability under Communications Decency Act.
The judge ruled, “Though plaintiffs allege that Twitter should not have provided accounts to ISIS, the unspoken end to that allegation is the rationale behind it: namely, that Twitter should not have provided accounts to ISIS because ISIS would and has used those accounts to post objectionable content.”
Orrick said that to allow the lawsuit would mean “any plaintiff could hold Twitter liable for any ISIS-related injury without alleging any connection between a particular terrorist act and Twitter’s provision of accounts.”
Such a theory of liability would persist indefinitely and make Twitter open to litigation over any and all future ISIS attacks. “Such a standard cannot be and is not the law,” Orrick found.