Families of San Bernardino victims sue Facebook, Google, Twitter


Content promoting ISIS is often circulated by supporters on social media.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

The families of the San Bernardino shooting victims are suing Facebook, Google and Twitter, accusing the companies of knowingly allowing terrorist activity to take place on their respective social media platforms.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday with the California Central District Court in Los Angeles, family members of three victims laid out their claim, which encompasses four different terrorism-related charges, one charge of “negligent infliction of emotional distress” and one of wrongful death.

“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,” the filing says.

Twitter declined to comment on the matter, and representatives of Facebook and Google did not immediately respond.

The December 2015 shooting rampage conducted by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, left 22 people injured and 14 dead. A high-profile legal battle ensued between the FBI and Apple, which refused to allow law enforcement officials backdoor access into an iPhone used by the perpetrators.

This latest lawsuit sees yet more Silicon Valley companies drawn into the aftermath of the massacre. The two cases are different in nature, but both raise questions about how much responsibility tech companies should shoulder when their products are used for nefarious activities.

Both Facebook and Twitter have firm rules that prohibit threats of violence and the promotion of terrorism, but are increasingly under pressure to be seen to be taking preventive action against the growth of ISIS in particular. Social media companies — Facebook especially — are also grappling with a broader issue of violence being broadcast through livestreams and other content.

The three companies were also sued, unsuccessfully, in December 2016 by the families of three of the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting last June. No lawsuit of this type has ever passed beyond the preliminary phase as companies have immunity from liability for content posted by users under federal law.

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