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Families of three Orlando terrorism victims sue social media companies

By Gal Tziperman Lotan Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – Family members of three men killed in the Pulse nightclub attack are suing Twitter, Facebook and Google, claiming that the social media companies allowed the Islamic State terrorist group to post propaganda and push its agenda.

The suit was filed this week in a federal court in eastern Michigan on behalf of the families of Tevin Crosby, 25, Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, and Juan Guerrero, 22. Crosby was a Michigan native, and Jorge-Reyes has a sister who lives there.

The three men were among the 49 people killed when Omar Mateen opened fire in the nightclub June 12. In conversations with police that night, Mateen pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State.

In the lawsuit, Michigan attorney Keith Altman alleged that the Islamic State is “dependent of Twitter, YouTube (which Google owns) and Facebook to terrorize,” and that the group uses the social media platforms to recruit and spread its message.

“I think public opinion will simply not tolerate these companies taking this laissez-faire attitude anymore,” said Altman, of the firm 1-800-LAW-FIRM.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, though it does not specify how much.

“But the money is a secondary issue,” Altman said. “This is about other families not having to bury their loved ones.”

The firm also filed a similar suit on behalf of the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, an American killed in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Little information has been released about the investigation into how Mateen was radicalized, or whether he had contact with the Islamic State social media accounts mentioned in the lawsuit as he planned the attack. He did reportedly search social media for references to the militant group and the attack during the three hours he spent in the club before Orlando police and Orange County deputies shot and killed him just after 5 a.m.

The federal Communication Decency Act protects online publishers from being held responsible for user-generated content, such as comments. Altman argued that when Facebook, Twitter and Google pair the user-generated content with advertisements, the pairing should constitute a new piece of content that publishers ought to be held responsible for.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company does not allow users to post content that advocates terrorism, nor does it allow any posts from people it considers known terrorists.

“We take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us,” Genevieve Grdina said. “We sympathize with the victims and their families.”

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. Earlier this month, the company announced an initiative with YouTube, Facebook and Microsoft to collaborate on a database helping the companies track and “curb the spread of terrorist content online.”

Google did not immediately respond.

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