Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Orlando Pulse victims' families sue social media companies for indirectly aiding ISIS on their platforms; novel argument concerning Section 230

The families of at least three victims of the Pulse terror attack in Orlando on June 12, 2016 have filed lawsuits against Twitter, Facebook and Google (owner of Blogger, the platform on which this post appears) for “aiding and abetting” terrorists by knowingly or at least recklessly and negligently allowing terrorists to recruit on their platforms.

The story has been discussed on CNN this morning. CNN does not seem to have a detailed story online yet.  The suit was apparently filed in Florida, but it was not clear if this is in state or federal court.  Dana Bash interviewed plaintiff's attorney Keith Altman, who described the social media companies' efforts so far as like "weed whacking", and not pulling out the roots.  It sounds like the analogy between shaving and laser epilation.

Media reports are showing up now, such as this account on Gannett USA Today and this one in the Huffington Post here.  Fox has a story here.

All three companies have become more aggressive in rooting out content they know to be promoting radical Islamic terrorism (to use Ted Cruz’s term).  I just randomly checked the link for the Haqqu Media Center on Facebook a few minutes ago and found it removed.

The most obvious defense is, of course, Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  Services providers are not normally legally liable for defamation or privacy torts committed by their users.

 There could be an analogy to child pornography, because service provider do have to remove and report child pornography when they find it, but again, they don’t have to check for it beforehand (although Google apparently does check email attachments for known images on the NCMEC database).

Plaintiffs claim (especially this morning on an interview on CNN with Dana Bash) that service providers are “creating content” by matching up users, content, and ads to show to them (especially for users who do not turn on “do not track”).  This is like saying a “logical relationship” or “intersection data” on a database (like IMS) is data itself (which used to be a popular view among database technology developers).  Socially, it’s like saying that the bonds among people are as important as the people themselves.

The litigation will obviously take a long time and generate appeals, but it will certainly prompt Trump to question Section 230 in conjunction with what he particularly views as a grave national security threat: the targeting of ordinary American civilians by foreign elements as “combatants”, which social media allegedly facilitates.

There have been other lawsuits against the social media companies, as over the Paris attacks, as reported by the AP and The Verge in June.

But this can develop into an existential threat to user-generated content “as we know it”.  Ordinary web hosts (Bluehost, for example) could also be exposed, but they are not directly involved in ad matching, normally.  I will follow this story closely and follow up with more details on my Wordpress News Commentary blog. I’ll try to find a PDF copy of the complaint online.

We seem to become a "Manchurian candidate" society.  Somebody else made me do it.

Picture:  I was in the Pulse in July 2015, almost one year before the attack.  It could have happened to me.

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