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Widow Sues Twitter for Supporting Terrorists

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on January 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Social media is often celebrated for connecting people internationally and providing a voice for the many. But a new lawsuit filed in federal court by the wife of a man killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan sees a dark side to the free flourish of exchange. Tamra Fields blames Twitter for allowing terrorist groups to thrive on its platform, and is suing the company, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims that "for years, Twitter has knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits. This material support has been instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out numerous terrorist attacks."

Has Twitter violated any criminal laws?

Tying Twitter to Terror

Lloyd Carl Fields Jr. was killed in Jordan in November when a gunman entered an international police training center and shot 5 people. Two of the victims were Americans, and one -- Fields -- was the plaintiff's husband.

The attack was organized by the terrorist organization Islamic State, also known as ISIL (and to the dismay of many as ISIS). The group has been very active on Twitter, using the platform to raise money and find new recruits. The suit details the extremist group's tweet activity, claiming that as of December 2014, there were about 70,000 Islamic State-related accounts.

Of those, 79 accounts were "official" and tweeted 90 times a minute. The lawsuit contends that Twitter has done little to stop terrorists from using its service.

"While we believe the lawsuit is without merit, we are deeply saddened to hear of this family's terrible loss," a Twitter spokesman said in a prepared statement. "Like people around the world, we are horrified by the atrocities perpetrated by extremist groups and their ripple effects on the Internet. Violent threats and the promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other social networks, our rules make that clear."

Content Creation and Policing

The difficulty that Fields' suit faces is that Twitter is not a content creator. Like other social networks it provides a platform for people to post their own content. It is not a publisher then but a re-publisher. So, experts say, it is is mostly exempt from laws that would make it responsible for people's speech on their platform.

Fields is not the first to make the claim that Twitter should be responsible, even if experts say it is unlikely to succeed. As the Wall Street Journal reports, In 2012 an Israeli law group petitioned the US Attorney General's Office to force Twitter to remove Hamas-related accounts from the platform and failed.

Providing Material Support Is a Crime

Attorney Gabe Rottman, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, explained in a blog post in response to the Israeli petition that Twitter must actively do something to assist a terror group. Providing material support for terrorism, which is a crime, would mean more than hosting their accounts but something substantive like renting a data center at the terrorist group's request.

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