In San Bernardino Shooting Lawsuit, Twitter, Facebook, Google Let Off Hook

In a ruling late Monday, a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed lawsuits against Facebook, Twitter and Google that sought to punish them for their role in the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the tech companies could not be held accountable for the rise of Islamic State propaganda on their platforms. The shooting, which killed 14 people and injured 22 more, was carried out during a county facility’s training session and holiday party by Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, who had adopted extremist views.

Victims’ families brought the suit, contending that the tech companies had, in effect, provided technology enabling a terrorist act to occur. Beeler disagreed. Even though ISIS has claimed the couple were adherents, the judge wrote, “ISIS’s alleged claiming of responsibility after the fact does not establish the direct relationship.”

Authorities investigated the shooting as a terrorist attack, though no direct link to overseas organizations was ever definitively proven. From the beginning, technology was tangled up in the case. Former FBI Director James Comey said James B. Comey, said Malik and Farook were “consuming poison on the Internet” and became radicalized over a period of time. He also squared off with Apple over the couple’s locked iPhone, with the FBI finally managing to unlock it without forcing Apple to do so, as it said it was prepared to do.

In her opinion, Beeler found that the ubiquity of today’s technology services makes it difficult to assign specific liability on a case by case basis under the law. “A contrary conclusion poses boundless litigation risk and is not tenable given how interconnected communication services are with modern economic and social life,” she wrote.

The defendants contended that they had no liability “because the plaintiffs do not plausibly plead that ISIS committed, planned, or authorized the attacks or that the defendants aided and abetted the San Bernardino shooting,” Beeler wrote in support of that view.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to Deadline’s request for comment.

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