Social media has become an increasingly popular form of online communication. The Pew Research Center estimated that 65% of all adults are using social media. In addition, 90% of young adults, those between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media. There are many different websites and applications that people can use to communicate with others, in addition to being able to post thoughts, photos, and videos. Some of the more popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, and LinkedIn.
One of the advantages of social media is that it gives its users a way to express their thoughts and opinions. People from around the world can share ideas and participate in discussions on political and social issues. Social media also allows people to reach a wide audience more easily than traditional communication methods like phone or mail. However, the wide reach of social media can also be a disadvantage because it gives terrorist organizations, like the militant Islamic group ISIS, a platform to spread its message as well.
Social media giant Twitter is now facing a lawsuit for this reason. In January of 2016, a Florida woman, Tamara Fields, filed a lawsuit against Twitter in federal court in California after her husband was killed last November by an ISIS supporter while he was working in Jordan. 46-year old Lloyd Carl Fields Jr. was in Amman, Jordan training Jordanian police as well as police from Iraq and the Palestinian territories. According to USA Today, Lloyd Fields “and at least four others were killed in the dining hall of the Jordan International Police Training Center in Amman.” The attack was carried out by Anwar Abu Zeid, a Jordanian police officer. According to Tamara Fields, ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Reuters reported that her complaint states that “Twitter knowingly let the militant Islamist group use its network to spread propaganda, raise money and attract recruits.” Her complaint further states that Twitter had allowed ISIS to “maintain official Twitter accounts” up until recently. In addition, the complaint states that “[w]ithout 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 Reuters, “Fields wants Twitter to pay her triple damages for violating the federal Anti-Terrorism Act by having provided material support to terrorists.”
Twitter responded that Fields suit is without merit and that “[v]iolent threats and the promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other social networks, our rules make that clear.” In February, Twitter announced that, in the past six months, it had suspended 125,000 accounts associated with ISIS.
As Aaron Mackey of the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out to Buzzfeed News that, “[w]hat’s interesting about this lawsuit is: it’s not actually saying Twitter is liable for ISIS speech. It’s saying Twitter is providing material support for terrorism.” Mackey goes on to say that, “[t]his is new territory, claiming that Twitter itself is actually participating in terrorism as opposed to being a platform for speech about terrorism.” It will be interesting to see how the court resolves this issue. If Field’s lawsuit proves successful and Twitter is found liable, it could have widespread implications for other social media platforms that terrorists use to spread their message.