Internet Law

Social media companies that posted ISIS content aren't liable for Pulse nightclub shooting, 11th Circuit rules

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A federal appeals court has ruled social media companies can’t be held liable for radicalizing the Pulse nightclub gunman under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act because the plaintiffs failed to show the massacre was an act of “international terrorism.”

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of the suit filed by survivors and estates of those killed at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub in June 2016. Forty-nine people were killed in the shooting by Omar Mateen, who declared his allegiance to ISIS before police killed him., Law360 and Courthouse News Service have coverage of the 11th Circuit’s Sept. 27 decision, Colon v. Twitter, written by Judge Adalberto Jordan.

The 11th Circuit ruled in a lawsuit alleging Twitter, Facebook and YouTube parent Google aided and abetted Mateen because of ISIS content posted on the sites.

The suit alleged a violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The federal law authorizes civil lawsuits against those who knowingly provide substantial assistance to a person who commits an act of “international terrorism” that is “committed, planned or authorized” by a designated foreign terrorist organization.

According to the law’s definition, acts of international terrorism must occur outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States or must “transcend national boundaries.”

The allegations by 62 plaintiffs did not satisfy the law’s definition, the appeals court said.

Even though ISIS claimed responsibility for the shooting after it occurred, there were no allegations the terrorist group had contact with Mateen before the attack or knew of his plans, the appeals court said. Mateen was self-radicalized in Florida and he carried out “his murderous spree” in the same state.

“We are deeply saddened by the deaths and injuries caused by Mr. Mateen’s rampage,” the appeals court said, “but we agree with the district court that the plaintiffs failed to make out a plausible claim that the Pulse massacre was an act of ‘international terrorism’ as that term is defined in the ATA.”

The 11th Circuit also ruled against the plaintiffs’ Florida state law claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death. The court tossed the claims because the plaintiffs failed to adequately brief proximate cause issues.

The appeals court noted the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had also ruled against different plaintiffs seeking to hold Twitter, Facebook and Google liable for the Pulse nightclub attacks.

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