of that-does-not-improve-anything department
People suing Twitter and Facebook for acts of violence committed by terrorists have yet to convince a court to accept their arguments. The use of federal anti-terrorism laws as a way to bypass discussion of First Amendment and Section 230 issues has worked to some extent. This may not have given the plaintiffs any victory, but it did prevent a precedent that would work against these clients (and their law firms – both) when they attempted to define “insanity” as repeated failures.
Via Eric Goldman comes another loss in court for plaintiffs attempting to sue social media companies for an act of terrorism, in this case the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which appears to have no connection to an organized terrorist group.
Despite several attempts to turn the complaint into something actionable, the complainants failed to do so. This is largely because social media companies are not even indirectly responsible for acts of terrorism. More precisely in this case, the shooting of Pulse Nightclub was not even, legally speaking, an act of international terrorism. This means that there is no cause of action under the legal vehicle of choice for complainants, the Anti-terrorism Act.
From the Court of Appeal of the Eleventh Circuit decision [PDF]:
We are deeply saddened by the deaths and injuries caused by Mr. Mateen’s rampage, but we agree with the District Court that the plaintiffs have failed to plausibly state that the Pulse massacre was an act of ” international terrorism ”as that term is defined in the ATA [Anti-Terrorism Act]. And without such an act of “international terrorism,” social media companies – no matter what we think of their alleged conduct – cannot be held responsible for complicity under the ATA.
The shooter was an American citizen. He “self-radicalized” with alleged help from social media platforms. He pledged allegiance to ISIS while barricading himself with hostages after the shooting. ISIS arrived shortly after to claim support for the shooting and the shooter. But there is nothing “international” about it. And the Court of Appeal is unwilling to read the ATA as extensively as the plaintiffs wish.
The Pulse shooting… did not transcend national borders in terms of the people it was “meant to intimidate or coerce.” The plausible inference from the plaintiffs’ claims is that a mass shooting on US soil is aimed at terrorizing US citizens and residents. To come to the opposite conclusion, we would have to say (or infer) that any act of domestic terrorism, anywhere in the world, is intended to intimidate or coerce all of humanity. And if that was the case, we doubt Congress would have included this limiting language in the ATA.
Because these claims fail to bring the case to trial, the court takes no note of the implications of Section 230 and the First Amendment. This is a bit unfortunate, as the dismissal of the ATA lawsuits and state law claims did not stop these law firms and attorneys from filing several nearly identical lawsuits attempting to hold the companies down. of social media directly responsible for acts of violence committed by their users.
At some point, these issues can be dealt with at the federal court level. But today is not that day. And if people still believe that this is indicative of the faults of section 230, they should inquire into the inevitable fact that section 230 does not not immunize social media companies from allegations of violations of federal law. Yes, it is almost impossible to prosecute terrorists for acts of violence, but suing social media platforms will not result in justice either.
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Filed Under: 11th Homer, Blame, Responsibility, Article 230, Social Media, Terrorism