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Widow Slaps Twitter With Lawsuit for Providing ISIS With Platform

Widow Slaps Twitter With Lawsuit for Providing ISIS With Platform

Could this be a game changer for cyber warfare?

Twitter Inc. is facing a civil suit brought by the widow of an American defense contractor that was  killed by actors of the Islamic State in Jordan. Tamara Fields, wife of Lloyd “Carl” Fields, 46, alleges that Twitter knowingly allowed the Islamic State (ISIS) to use the social network to spread its propaganda and expand its membership.

The civil complaint filed last week alleges Twitter enabled ISIS to carry out acts of international terrorism such as the attack that left Fields’ husband dead in Jordan. A resident of Cape Coral, Florida, Carl Fields and one other American were shot by a Jordanian police captain on November 9, 2015 in an ISIS-inspired attack.

“Without Twitter,  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 was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In summary, the filing alleges the following of the San Francisco-based social media company:

  • Twitter “knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds, and attracting new recruits” for years.
  • Twitter “refused to take meaningful action,” despite “both the U.S. government and the public at large [having urged] Twitter to stop providing its services to terrorists.”
  • Twitter’s provision of “material support to ISIS was a proximate cause” of Carl Fields’ injuries and subsequent death.

Twitter Suit by Benjamin Wittes

Twitter believes the complaint has no legitimacy, saying, “While we believe the lawsuit is without merit, we are deeply saddened to hear of this family’s terrible loss … Violent threats and the promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other social networks, our rules make that clear. We have teams around the world actively investigating reports of rule violations, identifying violating conduct, partnering with organizations countering extremist content online, and working with law enforcement entities when appropriate.”

Fields’ allegations against Twitter hinge upon two passages in the federal Anti-terrorism Act that she and her attorney believe Twitter has violated. One (18 U.S. Code § 2333) states that victims of international terrorism have a private civil cause of action or, in other words, that they have a right to sue and that they “shall recover threefold the damages he or she sustains and the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees.”

While Fields falls under the above category as plaintiff in the statute, the statute says nothing about who the suit can be filed against. Does Twitter fit the bill?

Attorney Benjamin Wittes says it wold be unlikely. The answer depends upon how one defines “international terrorism.” Wittes and Zoe Bedell explain:

“International terrorism is defined in § 2331 as activities that (1) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate criminal law, (2) appear to be intended to intimidate civilian population or influence government policy through threats, and (3) occur primarily outside the US  or otherwise “transcend national boundaries.” Given that Twitter is running a social media platform, an activity that is neither violent or illegal, it seems as if a plaintiff would be unable to satisfy even the first prong of this definition of terrorism.”

Twitter certainly didn’t commit violent or dangerous acts themselves. However, an issue still remains in the second statute this case hinges upon concerns material support.

There have been several cases involving defendants similar to Twitter where the jury regarded the terrorism (as defined in § 2331) as something that may not only be performed by the terrorizers themselves, but by those that materially supported them. Providing material support to terroristic acts is a federal offense according to 18 U.S. Code §§ 2339A and 2339B. Last year, Jordan’s Arab Bank was found liable by a New York jury for transferring money to family members of Hamas terrorists even though, like those of Twitter, its actions were not violent or illegal actions in themselves.

As stated earlier, one of the allegations was that Twitter provided “material support” to ISIS. That material support, the complaint says, was a proximate cause of Carl Fields’ death.

Though chances of the plaintiff prevailing are slim, the material support clauses, Wittes says, are where Twitter could face a problem.

“The plaintiff … has alleged that Twitter has violated 18 U.S.§§ Code 2339A and 2339B. Section § 2339A makes it a crime to ‘provide material support or resources … knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or carrying out’ a terrorist attack (or one of the listed crimes); 18 U.S.§ Code 2339B prohibits the provision of material support to foreign terrorist organizations. The term material support includes both equipment and other tangible and intangible property and services, including financial services. And the plaintiff here alleges that ISIS uses Twitter to fund terrorism.”

The court would, therefore, have to find that providing ISIS with communication services and a platform to raise money constitutes terrorism as defined by the first portion § 2331. If done, only then would Twitter be considered an eligible defendant.

If the case goes to trial, the second portion of § 2331 (intent) will likely be the highest hurdle for the plaintiff to clear. Proving that Twitter intended or knowingly permitted ISIS to plan, fundraise for, or carry out the specific attack that killed Carl Fields in Jordan would be a tremendous feat.

Gary M. Osen, a terror financing litigator? that convinced the New York jury to hold Arab Bank accountable for processing transactions to clients with ties to Hamas said there is “no question” the federal Anti-Terrorism act applies to Fields’ situation. Providing “knowledge or willful blindness,” however, will be difficult.

If the case survives a motion to dismiss, it is sure to open up a civil can of worms.

[Featured image: YouTube]


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Lucien Cordier | January 22, 2016 at 10:14 am

To hell with lawsuits. Lets just kill ’em all.

legacyrepublican | January 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

How about the store that sold the pressure cooker to the marathon bombers? Or the nails and other materials used for shrapnel? Or the telephone or cable company that the terrorists used to access the twitter account? Or Google since the terrorists likely used their GoogleMaps feature too?

Where is the line drawn?

    stevewhitemd in reply to legacyrepublican. | January 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Correct. Let me rephrase the argument modestly:

    How about suing a firearms manufacturer for making a pistol that a social miscreant used to kill someone?

    We all know why allowing that lawsuit is wrong.

    Similarly, suing Twitter because a terrorist used the service to coordinate an attack is just as wrong. And mark my words, if the plaintiff wins this case the liberal gun control lobby will rub their hands in glee.

      While I don’t have all the details of this Twitter case, I disagree. See my explanation below.

      This isn’t quite the same as holding a gun manufacturer liable for a miscreant’s misuse of a firearm, especially assuming the end seller (i.e. after the manufacturer transfers to a distributor and the distributor transfers to the seller) ran a background check and the “miscreant” passed it. There’s quite a bit of separation — both physical and legal — between the miscreant and the manufacturer.

      This is more like (hypothetically) holding a tel-comm provider liable for the dissemination of child pornography, given that:
      1. they knowingly provided services to the “offender” (his name and address are on the bill), and
      2. he’s a registered sex offender (the list is public record, and includes his name and address), and
      3. his browsing, download, and upload habits include known illicit IP addresses, and
      4. other customers (and possibly law enforcement) have notified them and complained about it,
      AND YET, in spite of all this, the tel-comm continued to provide services for several years.

      At some point, given that both Twitter and the hypothetical tel-comm provide services directly to the consumer (unlike the gun manufacturer), it’s no longer a simple abrogation of responsibility; it’s a continued, long-term pattern of willful indifference.

      I’m not saying the suit will win, or even that it should. I’m just saying the argument can be made.

        MattMusson in reply to Archer. | January 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm

        Guess what? If you knowingly sell a gun to someone who plans to use it to kill a church full of people – you are toast. There are limits to the 2nd Amendment. And, Twitter better understand that there are limits to the 1st Amendment too.

          Right. If you know or suspect they’ll use the gun for criminal purposes and proceed with the sale anyway, you’re liable for the damages. That’s very different than if you make guns, sell to a distributor (an FFL), who sells to a shop (another FFL), who then sells to the end user. As the manufacturer, you’re so far removed from the user that you cannot reasonably be in any way responsible for criminal misuse of the firearm.

          Twitter (and Facebook, and Google, etc.) don’t have the excuse (or attendant immunity) of being so removed from the actual users.

          DaveGinOly in reply to MattMusson. | January 23, 2016 at 4:58 pm

          I know that limits have been imposed on firearms rights, but the Second Amendment itself says that the right to arms shall not be infringed. And this is strictly true, because no right has “limits” nor should they be limited. Whenever someone intentionally, wantonly, or negligently injures an innocent person, what was done to cause the injury was not the exercise of a right, but the commission of a crime. Rights don’t require “limits,” because, by definition, their exercise doesn’t injure innocent parties. “Freedom” means you can do want and have to exercise your own judgment – it does not mean that you have a right to commit crimes (although it means you can commit crimes – there’s a subtle difference – we could just lock everybody up; that would stop crimes, but it would also remove freedom – a consequence of freedom is that some people will use it to commit crimes), nor does it mean that you can escape consequences for your actions. (If some object – “Then you can use a nuclear weapon for self-defense?”, I’ll ask them to get back to me when they figure out how to do so without injuring innocent persons or their property. And then I’ll say, “Yes.”)

    IANAL, but it seems to me the analogous legal standard would be something along the lines of, “known or should have reasonably suspected”.

    Pressure cookers are used by millions of law-abiding Americans (myself included) for their intended purpose: canning and/or cooking food. The sale of a pressure cooker in and of itself is not suspicious unless the buyer openly discusses what else could be done with one AND that “what else” is a cause for concern.

    Same standard with nails or other shrapnel material. Same with tel-comm or online services. Same, for that matter, with rental cars, with guns, and with gasoline and with ammonium-nitrate-containing fertilizer. Unless the seller/provider knows or reasonably should know/suspect the products and/or services being used for illegal purposes, said seller/provider is not liable for damages stemming from the misuse of their products and/or services.

    In this case, though, Islamic State’s cause and reputation are well-known, and their use of Twitter for recruiting and possible incitement to violence is well-documented, thoroughly reported and complained-about (via Twitter’s own reporting/flagging feature), and completely antithetical to Twitter’s Terms of Service. Yet, it was allowed to continue. For years.

    We’ll see how it goes.

Dumb lawsuit ever. Hey, one of the 9/11 bombers used a phone to talk to one of his co-conspirators, let’s sue Verizon.

Hey, they raised funds by calling a buddy in Saudi Arabia. That even gets them on the same clause.

How to enforce this new clause? Why let’s get the government to watch every web page, every call to action and decide which ones are providing material support.

I think the IRS would like to do that too. Took some first steps in going after some anti-government terrorists, oops, I mean tea party groups for some potential financial “violations”. (after all, anyone opposed to any shape or form of government action is anti-government, and anyone who is anti-government “strikes terror” into those who are concerned about losing their government job, so yeah, tea partiers are terrorists. Clearly. QED.)

Insanity, this stuff is insanity. Nothing good comes from this direction. This doesn’t open a can of civil worms, this (further) opens up a Pandora’s box.

It’d be like suing the phone company whenever they use a phone. This dog ain’t gonna hunt.

    Paul In Sweden in reply to maxmillion. | January 22, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    “It’d be like suing the phone company whenever they use a phone.”

    If the phone company was offering only party lines and had not only its own employees actively listening, recording and selling/profiting from the sale of the content of customer phone conversations but also third party business partners doing the same with its customers, then Google, Twitter and Facebook would be very much the same in business practice. If that were the case and phone company operators were listening to conversations regarding mafia hits, arson attacks and political assassinations and did nothing to mitigate illegal activity, the phone company would face legal action.

Paul In Sweden | January 22, 2016 at 11:45 am

As Google, Twitter and Facebook actively fund and participate in the suppression of criticizing terrorism while turning a blind eye to the widespread use of their systems by known terrorist organizations; it would seem to me that some sort of case should be able to be addressed by the courts.

this may raise the hackles of some but I do not think these types of suits should be filed.
isis did the act.
if they passed paperwork around to communicate would you sue the paper manufacturer, the loggers,the log transporters, etc?
to me its the same thing as suing gun companies for people using guns to murder.
some who don’t think these suits should go fwd say its a first amendment issue but its not, twitter is private company.
however they should not be forced to accept responsibility for what their users choose to do with the service.

    There are several key differences between your “paper-only” analogy and this case.

    Once the paper leaves the manufacturer’s facility, it’s out of their control. It can be used to make origami, print legal contracts, political pamphlets, or terrorist instructions. The manufacturer has no knowledge of it, and no way to prevent misuse.

    Twitter, on the other hand, has complete control over its services. They have the ability to monitor everything said via their service. Violate the ToS, and you’re done. Piss off the wrong admin, and you’re done. Rack up too many “offensive” flags or complaints, and you’re done. Thus, with Islamic State maintaining an account and using it for recruiting and inciting violence for years and Twitter doing nothing about it, despite being notified (repeatedly), it’s not unreasonable to argue that they share some liability.

    Like I said in another comment above, I don’t know if this suit will win, or even if it should. But the argument can be made.

Paul In Sweden | January 22, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Are gun manufacturers allowed to sell guns to ISIS? If not why?

    American gun manufacturers, no. It’s a complex process, but put (overly) simply:

    1. Such a sale provides material support and weapons to a known terrorist group.
    2. Because of #1, the State Dept. would not sign off on the export, so…
    3. It violates the International Trafficking in Arms Rules (ITAR) regulations, which require the Sec. of State to allow exceptions.

    The BATFE would be all over that manufacturer in a heartbeat.

    Now, ITAR is an American law (despite the “international” label), so it only applies to exports from America. Other countries’ rules may vary.

      Paul In Sweden in reply to Archer. | January 22, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      Pretty much the answer I expected, thorough, TY. I imagine selling satellite phones to ISIS would be material support also. It still seems to me Google, Twitter & Facebook are providing access to their communications network which they extensively monitor, collect & analyze so many metrics it astounds me Edward Joseph Snowden fans are not jumping up and down on their desks or tables every single day. Google, Twitter and Facebook can probably provide highly customized military surplus & regional specific ads to a great many terrorist groups around the world.

      There seems little difference to me between selling Sat Phones or providing with “willful blindness” a virtual communications network to known terrorist groups especially while they at the same time actively repress criticism of those very terrorist groups.

She may have a case here.

Twitter apparently has no resource problem monitoring, banning, and unverifying accounts of conservatives (Milo Yiannopoulos), for arbritrary “violations” of their rules, yet apparently lets ISIS users tweet freely.

    J Motes in reply to jabster. | January 22, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    As Jabster says, Twitter has clearly taken sides in favor of ISIS et al. Twitter plays an active role in the way its customers use the service on an ongoing daily basis. They monitor tweets for content, and they can and do withhold service from customers who violate Twitter’s standards. Most people accept their right to do so, as it is a private company that can refuse service at will (golly, I thought that right was pretty much lost in the aftermath of Wickard).

    A gun manufacturer does not follow its customers to monitor how they are using their product, nor do they have any means of preventing customers from using the product if the manufacturer disapproves of their activity. I don’t believe the gun manufacturer comparison with Twitter is apt as their respective relationships with the customers using their products is entirely different.

    I am not making a judgment on whether this case has merit or on its likelihood of success. However, the left has passed many parts of its agenda via the courts and the filing of absurd lawsuits. The right has every right to fight for their standards in court as well. I don’t see any reason why Tamara Fields should be criticized for filing a lawsuit that addresses an issue of great importance to both personal and national security.

    Providing material support to ISIS et al. is against the law, and Twitter’s actions should be considered in that light (I would think that Jabster’s observation is a telling one against Twitter). The unusual point here is that the charge is made by a private individual and not by the federal government. Private citizens are being arrested and convicted for providing material support to ISIS and other Islamist groups. Private businesses should be held equally responsible for providing material support to these groups. If only our political leaders could be made accountable as well (e.g., the Iran deal that Kerry admits will be funding ISIS and other terrorist groups).

The only firearm analogy that would work is if as an FFL you knew or had reason to know I was a straw buyer and you sold me the gun anyway.

There are lists, such as the State Departments, of foreign terrorist organizations. I don’t see how social media sites get away with doing business with them. It’s illegal to provide material support to terrorists.

If someone gets a twitter account, or facebook, social media site I doubt they’ll tell the company they’re applying for an official ISIS or Islamic Jihad or Hamas account. But if the person getting is using the account to spread ISIS or Islamic Jihad propaganda then that person is the equivalent to a straw buyer. And by providing them services you are providing material support to terrorists.

This widow is exactly right. These jihadist groups have a strong social media presence. How do you imagine they can mobilize a huge crowd for an assault on a U.S. embassy in Cairo? These protests are never spontaneous; they’re always organized by someone, often their own Islamist governments. At least two of the groups that organized that, Islamic Jihad and Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya, are designated terrorist organizations. They couldn’t have gotten a mob that large without the services of social media like Twitter or Facebook. And they weren’t advertising that as a peaceful protest. Their stated intent was to burn down the building and take any survivors hostage until the Blind Sheikh was released (this administration was lying about the video when it came to Cairo, too, as that riot wasn’t over a video either).

Facebook and Twitter know what’s going on. It’s not like it’s a secret. It’s been common knowledge for years. I hope the

I hope the lady prevails.

Did you know that ISIS has an official Twitter app, The Dawn of Glad Tidings or just Dawn, so you can follow them on twitter? That is, if you speak and read Arabic. You’ll automatically get their tweets in your account. And you can get this app from the Google Play Store.

Again, this is an official ISIS product. And Google distributes it for them.

How are these social media applications not providing material support to terrorism?