The father of a victim of the Paris terrorist attacks is suing Facebook, Twitter and Google for “knowingly” letting ISIS recruit on their platforms and even indirectly paying them through ad revenue.
Reynaldo Gonzalez is the father of Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, a study-abroad student from California who was the only American that died in the attacks. His lawsuit claims that without the defendants (including YouTube, owned by Google), the “explosive growth of ISIS into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible.”
Gonzalez also accuses Google of making payments to ISIS since its AdSense program lets YouTube users get revenue from ads shown next to videos. In other words, because people watch ISIS videos and some of that money from ads on that page might go to ISIS, Google was colluding with the terrorist group. (It’s not certain money is even going to ISIS. People who want to take advantage of that program are required to follow community guidelines, one of which is probably “don’t be a terrorist group.”)
It looks like the lawsuit may not fare well in court. All three companies have pushed back against the lawsuit, citing their policies prohibiting extremist material. In addition, networks are usually exempt from liability for content posted on them under U.S. law. That provision, part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, has been used to protect sites like Craigslist when they were sued for ads for sex trafficking.
This is the latest lawsuit brought by a relative of a victim of terrorist attack. Back in January, the wife of an American man killed in Jordan filed suit against Twitter for similar reasons.
It’s clearly true that ISIS uses social-media platforms to spread propaganda. The group is active on Twitter, and the grisly video of journalist James Foley’s beheading was uploaded to YouTube. That said, the social media networks have been trying to fight the extremist material, with Twitter claiming to have shut down 125,000 ISIS accounts since May 2015 and possibly even working with European police. Invoking the DMCA to fight ISIS won’t work, and directly blaming these sites pay for the terrible things that happen on them—when they are actively trying to stop those terrible things—might not work either.