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San Bernardino Victims’ Social Media Lawsuit Dismissed

— January 3, 2019

A San Francisco judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by survivors and family members of a 2015 mass shooting in California.

The suit, writes National Public Radio, accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of knowingly supporting the Islamic State terror group and assisting its social media campaign.

Fourteen people were killed and another 22 injured when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked an office holiday party in San Bernardino on December 2nd, 2015. Both attackers were later killed in a dramatic roadside shootout with law enforcement.

While an investigation indicated that neither Farook nor Malik had direct contact with the Islamic State, the group still claimed responsibility for the casualties. Malik, says NPR, posted a video declaring allegiance to the self-proclaimed caliphate and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on the day of the massacre.

Gavel; image courtesy of bloomsberries, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes made.

The suit, filed in 2017, claimed that tech companies like Facebook “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.”

“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,” plaintiffs claim.

On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler opined that social media companies were “generally aware that ISIS used their services.” But there’s no evidence to suggest they “intended to further” global terror.

NPR reports that, one week after the shooting, then-FBI Director James Comey told Congress that social media had played a role in radicalizing Farook and Maiik. According to Comey, the Islamic state “is motivating individuals, or very, very small groups of people to commit murder on their behalf.”

However, speculating on the degree to which ISIS influenced Farook and Malik, Comey said, “We may never sort it out, because human motivation is hard.”

In her ruling, Beeler hearkened backed to Comey’s testimony, saying it’s difficult to ascertain whether ISIS actually “committed, planned, or authorized the San Bernardino attack.”

Beeler also said that the presence of social and mass media in modern life makes it difficult to draw direct links between terror and certain internet services.

Civil wars in Iraq and Syria led to the emergence of the Islamic State, which took over large swathes of both countries before being pushed back with assistance from a multinational coalition. The Islamic State gained notoriety for its social media outreach and professionally made propaganda videos, which sometimes featured GoPro footage from battlefields and recordings of executions.

NDTV writes that, at the time, the assault was regarded as the deadliest attack by Islamist-inspired extremists since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers.

A year after San Bernardino, an American-born gunman radicalized by the Islamic State attacked the popular LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 before being shot to death by police.

Survivors and family members of Pulse victims also launched a lawsuit against Twitter, Google and Facebook for playing a role in radicalizing the shooter.

Attorney Keith Altman, who’s involved in the San Bernardino and Pulse suits, says he plans to file an appeal.

“Don’t help terrorists,” Altman told NPR. “Given what’s going on with social media, they have to be held accountable.”


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