Tech Companies Say They Can't Be Sued Over Istanbul Attack

Family members of a man killed in an attack in a nightclub in Istanbul have no grounds to sue Twitter, Google and Facebook, the companies say in new court papers.

“Although defendants abhor the terrorist violence that occurred in Istanbul, and deeply sympathize with plaintiffs’ losses, established law does not allow their claim to proceed,” the tech companies write in papers filed this week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The dispute dates to 2017, when family members of Nawras Alassaf -- a Jordanian citizen who was killed in the January 1 Reina nightclub shooting -- sued the tech companies for allegedly enabling ISIS to recruit operatives. Alassaf's family alleged that the killer, Abdulkadir Masharipov, was radicalized by social media.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen dismissed the lawsuit at an early stage. Chen ruled that the family's complaint didn't spell out how the platforms could have caused the attack.

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The family members recently asked the 9th Circuit to revive the lawsuit. They contend that Google, Facebook and Twitter “provided ISIS with the infrastructure to 'virtually' radicalize prospective recruits and encourage them to commit acts of terrorism throughout the world.”

The tech companies are asking the 9th Circuit to reject that argument. The companies say that even if the allegations in the lawsuit were true, they wouldn't show that the companies played any role in the attack.

“The amended complaint did not allege that Masharipov or Shuhada ever had an account on Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, ever used any of the defendants’ platforms to view ISIS-related content or to communicate with any ISIS-affiliated individuals, or, indeed, ever used any of the defendants’ services at all.” the companies write. “Nor did it allege that the decision of either of these individuals to affiliate with ISIS -- much less their decision to commit, or their commission of, the Reina attack -- had anything to do with ISIS’s usage of defendants’ platforms.”

The tech companies also argue that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from liability for material posted by users.

“Every court to reach the question has agreed that Section 230 bars claims against online service providers seeking to hold them liable ... for the alleged effects of terrorist content that users may have posted on their platforms,” the companies write.

All three companies have prevailed in similar battles in several trial courts and at least two appellate courts. Most recently, earlier this year the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt to revive a lawsuit that sought to hold Google, Twitter and Facebook responsible for the mass shooting by Omar Mateen at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

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