Given the amount of carnage and general destruction which came out of the horrid shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando earlier this year, it’s not surprising that some lawsuits would be filed a a result. Of course, I was expecting them to either sue someone associated with the shooter or perhaps whoever sold him his weapons. Strangely, though, coming totally out of left field, the families of some of the victims have decided to go after some massively deeper pockets. They’re hoping to take Twitter, Facebook and Google to court and hold them accountable for the shooting. (Fox News)
Families of the victims of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting on Monday filed a federal civil suit against Twitter, Facebook and Google for allegedly providing “material support” to the Islamic State and helping to radicalize shooter Omar Mateen.
In a complaint filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero argue that the three web platforms “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits.”
“Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), 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 lawsuit states.
The grief being experienced by these families is very real and most of us couldn’t even begin to imagine the horror they’ve been though. But even understanding the level of stress and pain they must be suffering, I’m not sure how they managed to find an attorney to actually take this case and bring it forward. It’s pretty much beyond question that terrorists have made use of social media to communicate, make plans and spread their message of hate, but they’re using open platforms with literally billions of subscribers. The people committing actual crimes and planning them on social media frequently have their accounts shut down as soon as they can be identified, but the idea that the owners of these products could somehow monitor each and every bit of traffic and identify potential bad actors in advance of an attack is, frankly, insane.
It’s also been widely reported that members of ISIS and terrorists “inspired” by their propaganda use cell phones to communicate via text messages and calls. Should we be suing Motorola and the rest of the phone manufacturers as well? Did the shooter have a Yahoo email account? Should we shut them down too? We might as well sue the Post Office if it’s found that they sent any snail mail to each other.
And these arguments don’t even being to touch on the free speech issue. No matter how hateful, people are allowed to express their opinions as long as they don’t actually act on them in a criminal fashion. And beyond that there’s the fact that the existence of these terrorist social media accounts has proven to be a valuable tool for intelligence agencies trying to monitor the groups’ activities and thwart attacks. Asking a court to find the social media giants accountable for the actions of one of their users opens the door to essentially shutting down all social media permanently. (Not saying that might not be the worst thing in the world given how Twitter is most days, but…)
This lawsuit just doesn’t sound like it’s going anywhere to me. Better to focus the blame and accountability on those who perpetrate the actual crimes rather than widely available communications tools they might have employed.