The lawsuit claimed that ISIS’s persistent presence on Twitter constituted material support for the terror group, and sought to hold Twitter responsible for an ISIS-linked attack.
The case was filed by the family of an American contractor named Lloyd Fields who was killed in Jordan in an ISIS-linked attack. The plaintiff’s initial complaint alleged widespread fundraising and recruitment through the platform, attributing 30,000 foreigners recruited through ISIS Twitter accounts in 2015 alone.
However US District Judge WIlliam H Orrick said the plaintiffs had not offered a convincing argument for holding Twitter liable.
“Apart from the private nature of Direct Messaging, plaintiffs identify no other way in which their Direct Messaging theory seeks to treat Twitter as anything other than a publisher of information provided by another information content provider,” the ruling reads. At the same time, even the private nature of Twitter’s Direct Messaging feature “does not remove the transmission of such messages from the scope of publishing activity under section 230(c)(1),” the Judge said.
He gave the plantifs 30 days to come up with some other form of legal logic.
Had the case gone ahead it would have created a major problem for the Safe Harbor clause. The clause protects online services from liability for speech published on their network, like a libelous statement in the comments section of a news article.
The plaintiffs argued Twitter was not covered by Section 230 because its continued provision of accounts to ISIS counted as an act of publishing or speech. According to the plantiffs, the act of provisioning accounts to ISIS members constituted a material support, much like a newspaper choosing to publish a particular writer.
However that did not fly in the court becasue there was shedloads of past cases where publishing activity under section 230(c)(1) clearly suggested that Twitter was covered.
Twitter has largely dismissed that criticism, claiming it has shut down as many as 10,000 of the accounts in a single day.