ISIS Victim Suit Ties Twitter Ads to Terrorist Propaganda

ISIS Victim Suit Ties Twitter Ads to Terrorist Propaganda
by Kartikay Mehrotra
December 2, 2016 — 9:02 PM EST December 3, 2016 — 12:06 AM EST

Family of woman slain in Paris attack amends social media suit
Google, Facebook, Twitter accused of profiting on ISIS posts

The family of a woman slain in the 2015 Paris attacks claims in a lawsuit that Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google profit from targeted advertising linked to terrorist propaganda promoting violence.

The case is one of several complaints in U.S. courts alleging that the social media giants have played crucial roles in the growth of terrorist organizations in recent years. The biggest hurdle facing such claims is a federal law that insulates publishers from liability for the speech of others.

The family of Nohemi Gonzalez, who was fatally shot in the Paris attacks, said Friday in a revised version of a lawsuit initially filed in June that the companies created “original content” by tying advertisements to ISIS-supported posts and generating revenue from them.

By relying on algorithms that target specific ads to users based on the content they’re viewing, the companies are acting outside the Communications Decency Act ’s protection for internet platforms that are used to share text, photos and videos, said Keith Altman, a lawyer for the Gonzalez family.

“Although defendants have not created the posting, nor have they created the advertisement, defendants have created new unique content by choosing which advertisement to combine with the posting," according to the revised complaint Altman filed Friday in federal court in Oakland, California.

Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler declined to comment on the lawsuit. Representatives of Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google didn’t immediately respond after regular business hours to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.


The Gonzalez family also alleges that social media outlets have done little to permanently remove ISIS backers from their sites. The complaint cites a Twitter user with the handle “DriftOne00146” that was removed 145 times before being reintroduced for a 146th iteration. Within days and a dozen posts, the user had 547 followers, according to the complaint.

President Barack Obama asked Silicon Valley firms last year to work with U.S. law enforcement authorities to prevent terrorists from using social media and encryption technologies. As of August, Twitter had suspended some 460,000 accounts linked to terrorist groups since mid-2015.

That same month, Twitter won dismissal of a lawsuit in San Francisco alleging that posts supporting ISIS ultimately led to the death of a U.S. citizen in Amman, Jordan. That complaint didn’t include claims related to ad revenue generated by the postings.

The case is Gonzalez v. Twitter Inc., 16-cv-03282, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).


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