Internet Law

Judge rules Twitter is protected from liability lawsuit over ISIS propaganda

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Federal law protects Twitter from liability for ISIS tweets said to have inspired a gunman who killed two U.S. law enforcement contractors in Jordan last year, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III of San Francisco dismissed the suit against Twitter on Wednesday, but allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint, reports. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Ars Technica and the Associated Press also have stories.

Orrick said (PDF) that Twitter is protected under the Communications Decency Act, which protects providers of interactive computer services from liability for content created by third parties.

The families of the slain contractors had claimed Twitter was liable for lending material support to ISIS in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The plaintiffs contended Twitter should not have provided Twitter accounts to ISIS, providing the means through which ISIS “spreads its poison.” They also alleged Twitter was liable by providing direct messaging capabilities to the group.

Orrick disagreed. “As horrific as these deaths were,” he wrote, “under the CDA Twitter cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker of ISIS’s hateful rhetoric and is not liable under the facts alleged.”

Orrick also noted that there does not seem to be a direct connection between the gunman—Jordanian police captain Anwar Abu Zaid—and Twitter. “Plaintiffs do not allege that ISIS recruited or communicated with Abu Zaid over Twitter, that ISIS or Abu Zaid used Twitter to plan, carry out, or raise funds for the attack, or that Abu Zaid ever viewed ISIS-related content on Twitter or even had a Twitter account,” Orrick wrote.

According to, Orrick’s decision “bodes ill for other similar cases pending against Twitter, Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. alleging that their platforms provide support to terrorist organizations.”

The slain men were Lloyd “Carl” Fields Jr. and James Damon Creach. The case is Fields v. Twitter.

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