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9th Circuit Considers Terrorism Liability Claim Against Twitter

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 08, 2017 11:00 AM

Joshua Arisohn, an attorney suing Twitter for enabling terrorists, sees the problem differently than most social media users.

Arguing to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he said social media companies may not be legally liable for content on their websites, but they should be liable for giving social media accounts to terrorists.

"Handing someone a tool that can be used to create content is not the same as disseminating content," Arisohn said. However, it's a hard task to argue around the law and judges who have already dismissed such cases.

Online Radicalization

In Fields v. Twitter, Northern District Judge William Orrick said the plaintiffs had no evidence that Anwar Abu Zaid was recruited on Twitter or used the network to carry out his murderous attack on government contractors in Jordan. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Ninth Circuit recently heard their arguments.

Ninth Circuit Judge Milan Smith, according to Courthouse News, asked the plaintiffs' attorney how Twitter could know people signing up for accounts were involved in terrorism unless the company examined the content.

"That's your problem," she said. "You're hoisted up on your own petard because if there is no content, then how do you get to foreseeability? How do you get to the causation?"

It was the same question that has shot down others trying to find liability against Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other social media for online radicalization.

Foreseeability, Anybody?

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, also in the Northern District of California, recently dismissed Sgt. Demetrick Pennie's lawsuit because he could not show a causal link between the terrorists' use of social media and a killer's actions.

"Absent plausible allegations that Hamas itself was in some way a substantial factor in the attack, there is no basis to conclude that any support provided by defendants to Hamas was a substantial factor," Spero wrote.

However, another killer recently took out eight people in New York City and said terrorist propaganda inspired him to do it. According to police, the man appeared "to have followed almost exactly to a 'T' the instructions that ISIS has put out in its social media channels before, with instructions to their followers on how to carry out such an attack."

Writing for Time, David Patrikarakos said social media have not policed themselves. He said lawmakers need to make them more responsible.

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