Trials & Litigation

Plaintiffs seeking to hold social media liable for Pulse nightclub attack lose in 6th Circuit

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A memorial outside the Pulse nightclub in August 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Photo by John Panella/

A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to hold Twitter, Facebook and Google liable for the Pulse nightclub attacks by a gunman who killed 49 people.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati said the plaintiffs had failed to allege any direct connection between the social media sites and the slain gunman, Omar Mateen.

“If we accepted plaintiffs’ argument,” the appeals court said, “defendants would become liable for seemingly endless acts of modern violence simply because the individual viewed relevant social media content before deciding to commit the violence.”

The plaintiffs had sought to hold the social media sites liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which provides a civil remedy to people injured by international terrorism. They also sued under state law for intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.

Their lawsuit had claimed that the Islamic State group used social media platforms to post propaganda and recruit Americans to commit terrorist attacks. Mateen had pledged allegiance to the group, then known as ISIS, shortly before the attack, and the FBI determined that he was self-radicalized on social media and the internet.

Plaintiffs included injured victims and relatives of people killed in the June 2016 attack at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub.

All the claims failed based on lack of proximate clause, the 6th Circuit said.

“We sympathize with plaintiffs—they suffered through one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history,” the appeals court said in an opinion by Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, an appointee of President Donald Trump. “But the absence of Mateen and the inability to hold ISIS responsible cannot create liability elsewhere. Plaintiffs’ complaint includes no allegations that Twitter, Facebook or Google had any direct connection to Mateen or his heinous act. And plaintiffs do not suggest that defendants provided ‘material support’ to Mateen. Without these connections, plaintiffs cannot state a viable claim under the ATA.”

The case is Crosby v. Twitter.

See also: “Families of Orlando nightclub shooting victims sue Facebook, Google and Twitter” “Jurors acquit widow of Pulse Nightclub gunman” “Mass shooting survivors allege law firm manager wanted their help to recruit others”

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