November 24, 2016

A federal judge ruled on Friday in California that Twitter cannot be held liable for providing social media accounts to members of ISIS. 

The judge rejected claims from families of attacked victims that Twitter had provided material to support the terrorist group by giving them access to the accounts.

U.S District Judge William H. Orrick ruled against a claim, for the second time, that Twitter Inc., in failing to vet and remove accounts used to promote ISIS, was liable for a terror attack at a Jordanian police training center that took the lives of two American contractors.

This time around, the amended claims made by the families of the terror victims circled around the company’s role as a publisher and their decision to provide user accounts to ISIS agents. However, the claims still fail to allege activity that is not protected by the Communications Decency Act, Judge Orrick said in granting Twitter’s motion to dismiss.

The families of Carl Fields Jr. and James Damon Creach were granted leave to file the amended complaint by Judge Orrick in August. explaining why their “provision of accounts” theory of liability treats Twitter as something other than a publisher of third-party protected by the CDA. However, shortly after being filed, Judge Orrick stated that the amended complaint failed to address the flaws that sank their original complaint. He added that further amendments to the argument would be “futile.”

“Plaintiffs attempt to plead around the CDA by asserting that Twitter provided ISIS with material support by allowing ISIS members to sign up for accounts, not by allowing them to publish content. But no amount of careful pleading can change the fact that, in substance, plaintiffs aim to hold Twitter liable as a publisher or speaker of ISIS’s hateful rhetoric, and that such liability is barred by the CDA,” the opinion said.

According to court documents, Fields was working as a DynCorp International government contractor, while Creach was a DECO government contractor at the time of the attack. ISIS took credit for the killings which were carried out by Abu Zaid in Jordan on November 9th 2015.

Families of the two victims did not claim Zaid was recruited by ISIS via Twitter or that Twitter was used in the planning or funding of the attack, the documents show. Instead, they accused Twitter of providing material support to ISIS by “knowingly and recklessly” giving ISIS access to accounts on its platform, which it then allegedly used to spread propaganda, raise funds and recruit new members.

However, it was ruled that under the CDA, Twitter cannot be treated as a publisher. The CDA protects providers of interactive web content platforms from liability for content provided by third-party publishers.

Families of the victims had also failed to explain how Twitter’s provision of accounts to ISIS does not constitute protected publishing activity, according to the ruling.

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