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Families of San Bernardino victims sue Facebook, Google, Twitter

The Silicon Valley companies are accused of knowingly allowing terrorism and ISIS support to flourish on social media.


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

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Silicon Valley companies continue to feel the repercussions of terrorism.

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

In lawsuit filed 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.

This isn't the first time a tech company has been drawn into the aftermath of the December 2015 shooting rampage, conducted by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, which 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.

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.

Social media in particular has felt the heat. ISIS, al-Qaeda and other groups have long turned to those online venues to broadcast their message to the world and communicate with like-minded individuals. During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump even suggested that parts of the internet be shut down as a way to undercut terrorist activities. After deadly attacks in Paris in November 2015, France's Ministry of the Interior considered proposals to block free public Wi-Fi and the use of technologies that foster anonymity.

Both Facebook and Twitter have rules that prohibit threats of violence and the promotion of terrorism, but they're 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 shared through livestreams and other content.

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

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.

First published May 5 at 6:38 a.m. PT.
Updated at 7:57 a.m. PT: Added background material.

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