Exclusive: Families of Orlando nightclub shooting victims sue Facebook, Twitter and Google

Mourners embrace outside the wake for Pulse shooting victim Javier Jorge Reyes in Orlando, Florida, USA June 15, 2016


Families of the victims of the Orlando gay night club shoot on Monday filed a federal civil case against Twitter, Facebook and Google for allegedly providing “material support” of the Islamic State and help to radicalize shooter Omar Mateen.

In a complaint filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, the families of Tevin Crosby, Javier Jorge-Reyes and Juan Ramon Guerrero claim that the three web platforms ” provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts that they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new employees.”

“Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS, the past few years in the most notorious terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” the lawsuit states.

Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard who promised allegiance to ISIS, opened fire in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub back in June, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others before being killed by a SWAT team at the end of the deadliest mass shooting in modern AMERICAN history.

“Life has not been easy for me and my entire family,” Juan Guerrero, the father of one of the victims, said “It’s something I think and live from day to day.”

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ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack through the Amaq news agency, although further research found that Mateen was not a member of the terrorist group, but was inspired by part by what he saw on the Internet.

“Mateen was radicalized by ISIS with the help of the suspects tools for that purpose,” Keith Altman, the attorney for the three families, told

ISIS maintains an active presence on both Facebook and Twitter, and also strongly depends on the Google-owned YouTube to post propaganda messages and videos of the executions.

In the heart of the lawsuit is the interpretation of a provision tucked deep in the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230.

The language of Section 230 states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In layman’s terms, this basically means that sites like Facebook or YouTube are not liable for what their users post on their sites.

“Section 230 is a free online service providers, as long as they act only as a pass-through” – Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University Of Buffalo School of Law, told “If you have a place for people to talk, but do not communicate on your own, then you are in principle exempt from prosecution.”

Section 230 of the CDA has protected social media sites in the past, but some lawyers and academics argue sites like Facebook may be in violation of the provision with their heavily guarded algorithms. In spite of these algorithms have come under fire for – seeing how Facebook is the curator of the Trending Topics to accusations that YouTube was censoring people – this lawsuit claims to be something much more nefarious behind one of the tech world’s most mysterious processes.

This man was radicalized by searching at Google, Facebook and Twitter.

– Keith Altman, the attorney for the family of the victims, said Mateen

“The defendants create unique content by matching of ISIS postings with advertisements based on information known about the viewer,” Altman said. “Moreover, the defendants finance ISIS activities through the sharing of ad revenue.”

Representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google does not immediately answer’s request for comment.

While these social platforms have cracked down and deactivated accounts connected with terrorist groups in the past, Altman argued that a different account will almost immediately pop up and that companies think that they are not responsible, because they are not the ones who are producing the content.

“I wish we could get some rules put in place,” Guerrero said. “They should do something to prevent these people from doing things like this.”

Experts on Internet law say that while in the past courts have been reluctant to these platforms responsible for the content posted on their site, as the suit filed by the Impulse of the victims families is successful, it could drastically reshape the world of social media.

“It would be a big change, because it would be the first crack in making these companies liable for what there is to see on our feeds,” Bartholomew said. “It will be interesting to see how big that crack is, because now it’s a door without a lot of cracks.”

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