The father of a victim of last year's deadly terror attacks in Paris has sued Google, Facebook and Twitter for permitting groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) to use their platforms to spew extremist propaganda.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of California, lawyers for Reynaldo Gonzalez blamed the three Internet companies for contributing to the deaths of more than 125 people, including his daughter Nohemi Gonzalez.
U.S. laws normally exempt companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter from being sued for content posted on their platforms by users and groups, including those with suspected terrorist affiliations. However, in this case, Gonzalez's lawyers have accused the companies of providing material support to the terrorists by permitting the use of their networks to disseminate propaganda.
"Plaintiffs' claims are based not upon the content of ISIS' social media postings, but upon Defendants provision of the infrastructure which provides material support to ISIS," the lawyers claimed in their complaint filed with the court. All three of the companies named in the lawsuit have profited from placing ads in ISIS' postings. In the case of Google, the revenue that the company earns from ads that run before ISIS video messages on YouTube are actually shared with the terror group, the lawsuit alleged.
"Our hearts go out to the victims of terrorism and their families everywhere," Google said in a statement that it requested be used in full. "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, YouTube has a strong track record of taking swift action against terrorist content. We have clear policies prohibiting terrorist recruitment and content intending to incite violence and quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users. We also terminate accounts run by terrorist organizations or those that repeatedly violate our policies."
Google currently has a policy of reviewing flagged videos on a continuous basis and prohibits material that it considers as promoting gratuitous violence or inciting others to violence and other dangerous behavior. The company's policies allow exemptions for graphic and violent videos that serve a documentary or educational purpose or have news value. In such cases, Google checks to see if the individual uploading the video has provided some sort of context in the title and metadata to help viewers understand what they are seeing.
In a separate statement, Facebook too expressed its sympathy for those affected by terror attacks and said there was no place on its network for terrorists or their propaganda. "We work aggressively to remove such content as soon as we become aware of it," Facebook said.
"Anyone can report terrorist accounts or content to us, and our global team responds to these reports quickly around the clock." When Facebook's team encounters anything suggesting a terror attack or imminent harm, the company reaches out to law enforcement, the social media giant said. "This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves."
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 34-page legal complaint draws on previous statements made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Brookings Institution and others about how terrorist organizations are taking advantage of social media sites to recruit and spread propaganda to bolster its own claims.
It points to dozens of examples where alleged ISIS supporters used either Twitter, Facebook or Google to reach out to, engage with and recruit people to its cause. The networks are also being used to seek donations from people that are sympathetic to the cause, the lawyers alleged.
"Astonishingly, Defendants routinely profit from ISIS. Each Defendant places ads on ISIS postings and derives revenue for the ad placement," the complaint noted. Google actually shares that revenue with whomever uploaded the video, the lawsuit said, pointing to the company's video approval, ad placement and revenue-sharing policies.
Among the many examples in the compliant of how the networks are being misused is one image that purports to depict an ISIS video on YouTube with an ad placed right next to it. In order for the video to run and for the ad to be placed, Google must have approved it for monetization first, the complaint alleged. "Google earned revenue from each view of this video, and Google shared the revenue with ISIS. As a result, Google provides material support to ISIS."
The lawsuit provided similar examples for the two other social networks.