The father of Cal State Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed during the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, filed a lawsuit Tuesday naming Twitter, Google and Facebook, claiming the social media giants allowed ISIS to use their platforms to spread propaganda, raise funds and attract new recruits.
The complaint for damages, which was filed in Oakland, said the material support allowed by these major social media platforms has “been instrumental to the rise of ISIS and has enabled it to carry out numerous terrorist attacks, including the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris where more than 125 [people] were killed, including Nohemi Gonzalez.”
Nohemi was dining with friends at a bistro when terrorists fired at the establishment, striking and killing her. The shooting was one of six coordinated attacks that night that left 130 people dead and nearly 400 more injured.
The 34-page complaint names Nohemi’s father Reynaldo Gonzalez as the plaintiff and successor-in-interest of her estate. He is being represented by attorney Keith Altman from the Michigan-based law firm Excolo Law.
The complaint claimed that through lax rules the social media platforms have allowed ISIS to explode in growth over the last few years and become “the most-feared terrorist group in the world.”
“According to the Brookings Institution, ISIS ‘has exploited social media, most notoriously Twitter, to send its propaganda and messaging out to the world and to draw in people vulnerable to radicalization’,” the complaint read. “According to FBI Director James Comey, ISIS has perfected its use of [Twitter, Google and Facebook’s] sites to inspire small-scale individual attacks, ‘to crowdsource terrorism’ and ‘to sell murder’.”
According to the complaint, until recently, ISIS has maintained unrestricted official Twitter accounts with thousands of followers and as of Dec. 2014 ISIS had about 70,000 Twitter accounts, with nearly 80 of them being “official.” Some of these accounts posted videos and images of brutal executions, including beheadings.
In addition, the complaint said the defendants have profited from ISIS by placing ads on ISIS’ postings and in the case of Google, revenue was earned and shared with ISIS from the advertising.
“In order for ads to appear associated with a posting on a YouTube video, the poster must create a Google AdSense account,” the complaint stated. “The poster must register the account for monetization. According to Google, each video must be approved in order for ads to be placed. These videos must meet Google’s terms of service.”
In March 2015, numerous media outlets reported YouTube was placing advertisements in front of ISIS videos, according to the complaint, which quoted NewsMediaRockstars.com as saying “Major corporations like Proctor and Gamble, Anheuser-Busch, and Toyota have all been forced to make apologies after ads for their products started rolling in front of ISIS recruiting videos which have been cropping up ever more frequently on the site.”
The complaint specifically cited Comey warning of ISIS’s use of Twitter’s direct messaging for private messaging and covert signaling.
“One of the challenges facing this hydra-headed monster is that if (ISIS) finds someone online, someone who might be willing to travel or kill in place they will begin a Twitter direct messaging contact,” the complaint quoted Comey as saying.
The complaint claimed ISIS has recruited more than 30,000 foreign recruits through Facebook since 2013, including about 4,500 Westerners and 250 Americans.
ISIS associates go so far as to call for donations via Twitter, setting up “donation tiers” that allow for silver or gold status donors, according to the Financial Action Task Force, the complaint claimed. ISIS then posts photos of cash, gold bars and luxury cars received by donors as well as weapons purchased through donations.
Through the social media sites, the complaint claimed ISIS has been able to spread propaganda and incite fear through photos and videos. During the 2014 Brazil World Cup, ISIS tweeted a photo of a beheaded Iraqi police chief with the following words: “This is our ball … it’s made of skin.” The tweet included the hashtag #WorldCup so the image would appear on the feeds of millions following the international soccer competition, according to the complaint.
Two months later, ISIS supporters tweeted thousands of tweets threatening Americans with the hashtags #WaronWhites and #AMessagefromISIStoUS with photos of dead and seriously injured Allied soldiers, the complaint stated.
“Some of the photos depicted U.S. Marines hung from bridges in Fallujah, human heads on spikes and the twin towers in flames following the 9/11 attacks,” the complaint added.
ISIS has also used Twitter for coordinated hashtag campaigns where thousands of members repetitively tweet hashtags at certain hours so that they trend on Twitter and reach more users.
The complaint stated that a June 2014 campaign called “Twitter storm” led to a surge in followers.
It cited multiple news stories showing the use of the social media sites by ISIS and the sites’ refusal to take meaningful action to stop it.
The media reported on the terrorist group’s use of Twitter to raise money for weapons, food and operations, on Twitter’s “Wild West” approach on social media, on Facebook’s refusal to take down an ISIS fan page with nearly 6,000 members, and more.
“Throughout this period, both the U.S. government and the public at large have urged defendants to stop providing its services to terrorists,” the complaint stated.
According to the complaint, presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the defendants to be more aggressive in preventing ISIS from using their networks.
“Resolve means depriving jihadists of virtual territory, just as we work to deprive them of actual territory,” the complaint quoted her as saying.
The complaint accused the defendants to have failed in taking meaningful action. It cited a June 2014 response from Twitter founder Biz Stone to media questions about ISIS’s use of Twitter to publicize its acts of terrorism: “[i]f you want to create a platform that allows for the freedom of expression for hundreds of millions of people around the world, you really have to take the good with the bad.”
In February 2015 Twitter confirmed it doesn’t proactively monitor content, instead relying on other users to report those who violate the rules, according to the complaint. Even when violating accounts are shut down, the complaint said defendants do nothing to stop others from “springing right back up.”
The complaint pointed to the hacking group Anonymous’ November 2015 take down of several thousand ISIS Twitter accounts.
“That an external third party could identify and disrupt ISIS Twitter accounts confirms that Twitter itself could have prevented or substantially limited ISIS’ use of Twitter.”
The plaintiff alleges violations constituting acts of international terrorism and seeks unspecified damages as well as a demand for trial by jury.