Thursday morning, Reuters reported that Twitter is being sued for providing "material support" to terrorist groups.
American Tamara Fields, whose husband Lloyd was killed in a November 9 attack on a Jordanian police training center by the Islamic State, has accused Twitter of supporting ISIS either "knowingly or with willful blindness." She is seeking damages, but the amount is yet unspecified.
Providing "material support" for terrorism is defined by US law as providing "service," "expert advice or assistance," "training," or "personnel" to known terrorist organizations. Field's suit, filed on behalf of her husband's estate, accuses Twitter of providing service, specifically giving ISIS the opportunity to raise funds and recruit members.
The complaint, filed in Northern California district court, alleges that "without 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." The document quotes several sources on how ISIS has used Twitter in the past, including the Brookings Institute and FBI Director James Comey, who has said Twitter was being used as a tool to "crowdsource terrorism" and called ISIS a "hydra-headed monster."
Comey's allusion to Greek mythology only highlights how difficult it is to effectively bar ISIS from using the social network. In the past, Twitter employees and CEO Jack Dorsey have received death threats over their removal of ISIS-linked Twitter accounts. But as soon as one account is gone, another is made. And according to the complaint, Twitter's efforts aren't nearly enough:
"Even when Twitter shuts down an ISIS-linked account, it does nothing to stop it from springing right back up. According to the New York Times, the Twitter account of the pro- ISIS group Asawitiri Media has had 335 accounts. When its account @TurMedia333 was shut down, it started @TurMedia334. When that was shut down, it started @TurMedia335. This 'naming convention—adding one digit to a new account after the last one is suspended—does not seem as if it would require artificial intelligence to spot.'"
The fact that ISIS repeatedly uses Twitter to recruit jihadists and publicize its aims is an established one, and the complaint documents the link in detail. However, the complaint fails to provide direct evidence that ISIS used Twitter to plan the specific attack that killed Fields' husband. It is also doubtful that a court would hold Twitter accountable given its numerous attempts to shut down ISIS-run accounts.
Motherboard contacted Twitter via email, and a spokesperson provided the following statement:
"While we believe the lawsuit is without merit, we are deeply saddened to hear of this family's terrible loss. Like people around the world, we are horrified by the atrocities perpetrated by extremist groups and their ripple effects on the Internet. Violent threats and the promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other social networks, our rules make that clear. We have teams around the world actively investigating reports of rule violations, identifying violating conduct, partnering with organizations countering extremist content online, and working with law enforcement entities when appropriate.