Relatives of the victims of the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack are suing several tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
The lawsuit claims the trio of big businesses contributed to the attacks by allowing Islamic State propaganda to flourish and thrive. By providing platforms for fundamentalists, fighters, and their supporters to communicate and find one another, the plaintiffs say social media and search engines are guilty of providing material support to the shooters.
“Without defendants Twitter, Facebook and Google (YouTube) the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” said the complaint.
The Islamic State – popularly known by acronyms ISIS and ISIL, as well as the Arabic language-derived Daesh – is notorious for making use of Internet resources to reach out to aspiring jihadis and radicalize disaffected youth. The organization’s use of social media has been well-documented.
Videos uploaded to YouTube, LiveLeak, and other websites show attacks, executions, and murders filmed and edited by the group and its sympathizers. ISIS also publishes a semi-regular magazine entitled ‘Dabiq,’ easily accessible from Google.
“For years defendants have knowingly and recklessly provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts to use its social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits,” said family members of Sierra Clayborn, a victim of the San Bernardino shootings.
The attack was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, on December 2, 2015. The couple opened fire at Farook’s government workplace, killing 14 people and wound 22 others, before being boxed in by law enforcement on an open stretch of road.
Farook, the son of immigrants from Pakistan, and Malik, a Pakistani native, were killed in a shootout with dozens of police officers.
Reuters compared the attack with a 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
In San Bernardino as well as Orlando, the shooters either pledged allegiance to the Islamic State or indirectly cited radical Islamist ideology as motivation.
Living victims as well as family members of the deceased in the Pulse killings filed a similar lawsuit against Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
However, no lawsuit which has been filed against social media platforms for complicity in terror attacks has advanced beyond preliminary hearings. Reuters notes that “federal law gives internet companies broad immunity from liability for content posted by their users.”
Twitter and Facebook have policies which prohibit the posting of material which encourages or promotes violence; Twitter has banned scores of accounts operated for or in conjunction with ISIS, although the accessibility of the website makes curbing propaganda difficult.