Tamara Fields, a Florida woman whose husband Lloyd died in the Nov.
9 attack on the police training center in Amman, said Twitter
knowingly let the militant Islamist group use its network to spread
propaganda, raise money and attract recruits.
Lawyers specializing in terrorism said Fields faces an uphill
battle, though the case could lead to more calls for social media
companies such as Twitter and Facebook Inc <FB.O> to take down posts
associated with terrorist groups.
In her complaint filed on Wednesday, Fields said San Francisco-based
Twitter had until recently given Islamic State, also known as ISIS,
an "unfettered" ability to maintain official Twitter accounts.
"Without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few
years into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not
have been possible," according to the complaint, which was filed in
the federal court in Oakland, California.
Fields wants Twitter to pay her triple damages for violating the
federal Anti-Terrorism Act by having provided material support to
Her lawyer said he believes it is the first case in which a social
media company is accused of violating that law.
"While we believe the lawsuit is without merit, we are deeply
saddened to hear of this family's terrible loss," Twitter said in a
statement about the civil lawsuit. "Violent threats and the
promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other
social networks, our rules make that clear."
PRESSURE ON SILICON VALLEY
Last Friday, the Obama administration set up a task force to crack
down on extremist groups using the Internet to advance their goals,
find recruits and plan attacks such as recent killings in Paris and
San Bernardino, California.
Senior national security officials also met with technology
executives in Silicon Valley last week to discuss what more could be
done to counter Islamist militants.
"Social media plays an important role in allowing ISIS to recruit
foreign fighters," said Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law
professor and former U.S. Treasury Department official specializing
in terrorist financing.
"But at the end of the day, is there a sufficient nexus between
ISIS' use of Twitter and acts of terror?" he continued. "I'm not
saying you can't show it but it's a real challenge."
Lloyd "Carl" Fields was among five people killed in the "lone wolf"
attack at the police training center by Jordanian police officer
Anwar Abu Zeid.
The government contractor, who had been a police officer for a
decade, was in Jordan to train police from that country, Iraq and
the Palestinian territories.
David Greene, civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation digital rights group, said the Fields case plows new
legal ground under the anti-terrorism law.
"With this, the claim is not that you are reaching out or doing
something special" for an entity identified as a terrorist group, he
said. "This is that they (Twitter) need to stop providing (Islamic
State) with the same service they provide the rest of the world."
Joshua Arisohn, a partner at Bursor & Fisher representing Tamara
Fields, said his client can prevail by showing that Twitter's
activity was a substantial factor in her late husband's death, and
that the death could have been foreseen.
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"Given the significant support that Twitter has knowingly provided
to ISIS over the years, we're confident that we can meet this
standard," Arisohn said in an email.
Fields said Twitter aided Islamic State "knowingly or with willful
blindness," citing the company's alleged resistance to requests from
Congress, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and
others to do more to keep the group offline.
Islamic State, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, has
used the Internet regularly to spread its message.
The Brookings Institution think tank has estimated that Islamic
State supporters operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts between
September and December 2014.
Social media companies are not uniform in handling requests from
authorities to take down online material. Some technology executives
worry that being too quick to remove suspect posts could invite
endless and often meritless demands for takedowns.
Twitter has positioned itself as a defender of free speech, and been
reluctant to censor.
According to its online "transparency report," Twitter honored none
of the 25 requests from U.S. government and law enforcement
authorities to remove posts between January and June 2015.
Twitter said it honored 42 percent of the 1,003 removal requests
from governments, law enforcement and courts worldwide during that
period, and withheld 158 accounts and 2,354 tweets. It said more
than two-thirds of the requests came from Turkey.
In December, Twitter updated its policies for policing content to
explicitly prohibit "hateful conduct."
Gary Osen, a lawyer who in 2014 convinced a Brooklyn, New York jury
to hold Jordan's Arab Bank Plc liable for handling transactions for
Palestinian militant group Hamas, said there is "no question" the
Anti-Terrorism Act covers Fields' case, but showing "knowledge or
willful blindness" may be tough.
Arab Bank settled its case in August.
The case is Fields v. Twitter Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern
District of California, No. 16-00213.
(Additional reporting by Dena Aubin, Joseph Menn and Jonathan Weber;
Editing by Meredith Mazzilli, Alistair Bell and Noeleen Walder)
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