Families of Orlando Terror Victims Sue Google, Facebook, Twitter

The families of three victims of the terror attack last June in Orlando, Fla. have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Google, Facebook and Twitter's social network infrastructures provide material support for terrorist groups.

For the second time in six months, Google along with Facebook and Twitter are targets of a lawsuit accusing them of providing material support for terrorists.

The first time was in June, when the father of a man killed in the terror attacks in Paris last year, accused the three Internet companies of allowing extremist groups to use their platforms for propaganda purposes while profiting from it.

This time, the lawsuit is from families of three victims of the terror attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where a single gunman killed 49 people in June.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the families of Juan Guerrero, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Tevin Crosby accused Google, Facebook and Twitter of "knowingly and recklessly" providing ISIS with accounts for spreading terror propaganda, raising funds and finding 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 complaint alleged.

Under Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, Internet service providers like Google and Facebook cannot be held responsible for content posted by users of their service even if the content is considered defamatory and obscene. ISPs have long argued that they are just information carriers and operate on a very different model from publishers of newspapers and magazines and courts have tended to agree with them when the issue has come up.

But like the lawsuit filed earlier this year, the plaintiffs in the new one too claim that their issue is not with the actual content. "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 complaint filed in Michigan said.

Not only do Google, Facebook and Twitter provide the infrastructure, they also profit from ads placed on content posted by ISIS. In the case of Google, that revenue is then shared with ISIS under the company's revenue sharing model. "Lastly, Defendants incorporate ISIS' postings to create unique content by combining the ISIS postings with advertisements selected by Defendants based upon ISIS' postings and the viewer looking at the postings and the advertisements," the complaint said.

The 27-page document cites or quotes several experts who claim that Google, Facebook and Twitter are not doing enough to prevent abuse of their platforms by terrorist groups like ISIS. It seeks compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by jury trial.

Google did not respond to a request seeking comment. But in response to the first lawsuit, the company had pointed to its strong track record with regard to removing all content from YouTube that it considers as being terrorist-related or needlessly violent.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have also recently committed to creating a shared industry database of hashes for terrorist images and terrorist recruitment videos.

"By sharing this information with each other, we may use the shared hashes to help identify potential terrorist content on our respective hosted consumer platforms," so it can be removed quickly, Facebook had noted in a statement announcing the initiative.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.