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Another Lawsuit Against Facebook Over 'Material Support' of Terrorism

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 12, 2016 6:58 AM

Another set of survivors have filed suit against Facebook following revelations that Hamas and other terrorist organizations have been recruiting militants via the social media site. We say "another" because suits like this have happened before -- and they're likely to continue as the theory of the law settles.

Does the desire for society to root out terrorists' communication channels necessarily mean a reduction in our speech liberties? Perhaps we'll found out sooner than we wished.

Seeking Remedies Against Facebook

Several families who survived the victims killed in the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks that ripped through Israel brought suit against Facebook, alleging that the company provided "material support" to Hamas by letting that terror organization use its services.

The suit, Force v. Facebook, is probably the most recent in a spate of cases in which the surviving families of terrorist attack victims have sought both monetary and injunctive remedies. And, according Ars Technica, none of them have so far been successful.

Communications Decency Act

The usual go-to defense by "providers" is the language of the Communications Decency Act, specifically sec. 230. Under this section of the federal act, internet service providers are not held liable for the content that their user post using the providers' services. It is useful to think of users as the speakers and the providers simply as publishers.

For the most part, the more liberal arm of the internet is in agreement with this federal act, which is not a surprise. Without such federal protections, YouTube, Facebook, Google, and all the companies we generally associate with tech and free speech could not exist.

Related Cases: Google, Twitter, Facebook

Other suits that implicate this law include Fields v. Twitter. In that case, an American contractor was killed by terror attacks in Jordan. Plaintiffs alleged that ISIS had used Twitter to recruit and to exchange material terror information which eventually led to the decedent's death.

As mentioned above, Gonzalez v. Google was a suit brought by a California father whose daughter was killed in last year's 2015 Paris terror attacks that brought the city to a standstill. Mr. Gonzales sued the three biggest names in social media, alleging that they gave terrorists "material support" that directly led to the shootings. If the CDA is to buckle anywhere, it will be here.

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