Facebook

Supreme Court Won't Hear Suit Saying Facebook Helped With Hamas Attack

Hamas "used and relied on" Facebook "as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity," the plaintiffs claimed.

|

The U.S. Supreme Court said no thanks this week to a case involving allegations that Facebook provided material support to terrorists.

Filed in 2016 by the families of four people killed and one person injured in an attack carried out by Hamas in Israel, the lawsuit claimed that Hamas "used and relied on Facebook's online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity."

The case, Force v. Facebook, is one of many seeking to hold the social media company accountable for terrorist acts. Such lawsuits turn on claims that by allowing people to post and read certain sorts of content, to meet and interact with people who may radicalize them, or to communicate privately about terrorist plans, Facebook is guilty of knowingly providing material support to terrorists.

Similar suits have been filed against Twitter and YouTube. And judges have routinely granted tech companies' motions to dismiss these suits, generally based on the fact that federal law prohibits lawsuits of this kind.

That's thanks to a federal statute known as Section 230, which says 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." What this means for Facebook and Twitter posts and their ilk is that legal liability usually lies with the people posting the content, not with the companies that host the user-generated speech.

The Supreme Court declining to hear Force v. Facebook is good news for supporters of Section 230, internet freedom, and the First Amendment. The Court's inaction leaves untouched a July 2019 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

"The Second Circuit ruled emphatically for Facebook in one of the multitudinous lawsuits alleging that it provided material support to terrorists," explained law professor and Section 230 expert Eric Goldman in a blog post. "The majority relied exclusively on Section 230, in the process absolutely destroying some of the commonly-advanced arguments seeking to eviscerate Section 230. The result is a powerful win for Facebook and for Section 230. It should end any remaining hope for lawsuits against social media providers for materially supporting terrorists."

Despite the emotional tug of cases like these, it's important to limit legal culpability to those who actually carried out or directly assisted with the violent acts—not to branch out at whatever communication mediums those criminals happened to use. That's because when it comes to tragic acts like the ones invoked by the families in this case, it's tempting for not just the loved ones of those lost but also far-removed politicians to lash out at internet intermediaries. That's where things get really dangerous. In these tragedies, opportunistic legislators see opportunities to weaken encrypted communication, increase government snooping authority, and exert more control over online platforms broadly.

NEXT: Lawsuit Alleges California Cops Used Excessive Force on Teens for Walking Through a Neighborhood

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Suing Facebook because terrorists were communicating on the network is like suing gun manufacturers because a murderer used their gun. They’re not responsible for the egregious and felonious misuse of their product.

    1. Or suing a cellphone company because the terrorists used their cellphones.

      1. Or suing God because the terrorists used the atmosphere.

        1. Change Your Life Right Now! Work From Comfort Of Your Home And Receive Your First Paycheck Within A Week. No Experience Needed, No Boss Over Your Shoulder.cxc.. Say Goodbye To Your Old Job! Limited Number Of Spots Open…
          Find out how HERE……More here

      2. Or suing the cable company because your team didn’t win the Super Bowl.

      3. Cell phone companies don’t make their customers sign a contract saying they’ll terminate service if they engage in terrorism.

        Cell phone companies don’t listen to their customer’s conversations for keywords and if those keywords are uttered, label their customer a terrorist and revoke their service.

        Again, if/when all the ‘terrorists’ were Jewish, or brown, or Muslim, this whole ‘section 230 is the 1A of the internet’ bullshit obfuscation will be more transparent (if only for legislators to obfuscate things further).

    2. Unless you were booted off Facebook because Facebook claimed you were a terrorist or advocating terrorism.

      If Facebook had kicked off hundreds of terrorists and thwarted hundreds of attacks their anti-terrorism tactics should easily hold up in a court of law. Otherwise, they should be forced to answer why they booted people under the auspices of terrorism when, while failing to boot actual terrorists off. If they were booting black nationalists off and allowing the KKK to plan lynchings, you bet your ass people, Reason included, would be saying “What’s a section 230?”

      I’m not saying they’re guilty. I’m saying, even as libertarians, if Exxon can face RICO prosecution for providing AGW alarmist propaganda to its customers, FB should have to answer why they booted content generators disingenuously while allowing no-shit terrorists to remain on the platform.

  2. My goodness, every single author on this site feels the need to wedge in that last paragraph with their high-school-level libertarianish moralizing. Unlike the authors here, most of us have actually read libertarian philosophy. We know what we believe and what we’re talking about. We don’t need lukewarm-left-leaning rag to tell us what we think. Let us know what’s going on and let us hash it out in the comment section.

    1. Sarah Paul Walker, Six months ago I lost my job and after that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a great website which literally saved me• CXs I started working for them online and in a short time after I’ve started averaging 15k a month••• The best thing was that cause I am not that computer savvy all I needed was some basic typing skills and internet access to start•••

      This is where to start… For More Detail

    2. It helps to think that is for the wave of new libertarians coming to the site everyday, that are less initiated. They’ve probably have done data analysis on the all new traffic coming their way and found most of that traffic doesn’t even check out the comment section. That is why they don’t bother to give us an edit button, or a functioning comment section because that isn’t what their customers are demanding.

      And again I said it helps to think; not that its true.

    3. I personally wouldn’t mind them returning to libertarian first principles more often. This one is pretty obvious, but there is nothing wrong with giving their opinion on how libertarianism intersects with the issue. The alternative is this being a news site, and I don’t need another one of those.

      1. I get what you’re saying, but I’d rather they crafted well-thought-out articles that argued from basic principles than tacking on a little libertarianish afterthought to blog posts obsessing about the sexy headlines of the day.

        I guess what I’m saying is that I wish Reason was libertarianism’s answer to Jacobin, which is an incredibly well-written periodical and a sheer pleasure to read for its elegant prose. But maybe that’s too much to ask.

  3. Holding companies like FB or Twitter liable because they provide a place for people to meet and exchange information would be like holding a library responsible for allowing people to read things like Mein Kampf or the Anarchist Cookbook and then have discussions about them on library property. It would be like holding the highway responsible for someone using a car to purposely kill people by smashing into them.

    1. DON”T GIVE THEM IDEAS!!!

    2. You know who else purposely killed people by smashing into them?

      1. Hold Boeing liable for 911?

        1. But wait until their deep pockets recover a bit?

          1. What’s the statute of limitations on changing everything forever?

    3. Except a library or a highway is publicly owned and Facebook isn’t and the library doesn’t commit to being terrorist-free, ask people to leave for being too terrorist-y and then fail to kick out actual terrorists.

      1. There are private libraries and highways.

        1. Oh, so in your feigned ignorance of the term ‘curating’ you were referring only to the private libraries then?

          You’re a disingenuous piece of shit who couldn’t imagine yourself being regarded by Congress as a disingenuous piece of shit when they and their supporters say “Oh, yeah, we totally passed that law to protect free speech!” after SCOTUS gutted the rest of the law that clearly spelled out that Congress was giving some service providers a free pass on moderating speech Congress didn’t like.

          Section 230 is, rather overtly, a Congressional wrapper around free speech on the internet. Without it, the 1A would apply to the internet directly.

          1. What “feigned ignorance”? And since when do the terms “library” and “highway” only refer to publicly funded examples?

          2. Also note that the 1A, as written (Congress shall pass no law…) doesn’t apply to anything.

  4. “Facebook” was the name I had for the ex-wife of Diane Reynolds (Paul.). Or maybe that was “Hamas.” I can’t quite remember at the moment.

  5. commonly-advanced arguments seeking to eviscerate Section 230

    Smells like a straw man to me. The arguments aren’t that 230 should be eviscerated. Rather, that FB/Twitter/YouTube don’t qualify for 230 status because they are actively curating content.

    You don’t have to be a post-modernist to believe that there is no definitive “truth”. I agree with the need for 230. And I also thing FB no longer qualifies.

    1. Section 230 does not require you to refrain from all curating. If it did then they couldn’t keep porn of their site.

      1. You inserted the word “all”

        If your argument is that their curation is allowed, make it.

        1. “(c)Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
          (1)Treatment of publisher or speaker
          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.

          (2)Civil liabilityNo provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
          (A)any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
          (B)any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).[1]”

          https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230

          Case made.

          1. You didn’t even make an argument tho.

            Again, ARE YOU SAYING THAT THEIR CURATION IS ALLOWED.

            It seems like a really easy question.

            1. It is allowed by the language of the statute I just quoted.

            2. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
              (A)any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
              (B)any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).[1]”

              1. “good faith”

                Oops. Case blown.

                1. Good luck proving that in court.

                  1. So your argument is now NOT that it is allowed, but that it won’t make it in court?

                    1. You know, I’m trying to ask what YOU think, and you keep dodging.

                      Why?

                    2. “You know, I’m trying to ask what YOU think, and you keep dodging.

                      Why?”

                      I think the statute is self explanatory. That’s what I think the law is.

                    3. Ok so you don’t think having contracts termed because of behavior others get away with and the difference being political affiliation is bad faith?

                    4. “Ok so you don’t think having contracts termed because of behavior others get away with and the difference being political affiliation is bad faith?”

                      What if you find that political affiliation offensive, in good faith?

                    5. “Ok so you don’t think having contracts termed because of behavior others get away with and the difference being political affiliation is bad faith?”

                      Should I be allowed to run a libertarian forum that curates itself to remove all advocacy for communism or socialism because I find those political affiliations offensive? Or would you argue that site can be held liable because it restricts certain viewpoints?

                    6. “What if you find that political affiliation offensive, in good faith?”

                      What does the contract say about it?

                    7. “Should I be allowed”

                      Stop.

                      I asked you a very specfic question

                      Please answer it before I go any further.

                    8. ““Should I be allowed”

                      Stop.

                      I asked you a very specfic question

                      Please answer it before I go any further.”

                      I did answer. In good faith I find communism, socialism and the two major parties to be offensive. So I can restrict those viewpoints or not, legally?

                    9. Yes that is an answer.

                      But not to MY questuon.

                      So since you want to play games we can be done.

                    10. “Dyzalot”

                      Fuck off Jeff.

                    11. This question?

                      “Ok so you don’t think having contracts termed because of behavior others get away with and the difference being political affiliation is bad faith?”

                      What does that mean? What contract? And what does that “sentence” actually mean? I imagine there are many contracts who’s terms were set or changed due to bad behavior that people are getting away with but I have no idea how political affiliation got involved.

                    12. “Chipper Morning Wood’s low T value
                      May.19.2020 at 5:05 pm
                      “Dyzalot”

                      Fuck off Jeff.”

                      My first name is Joe, thank you. I mean come on, a simple google search would show you who I am. I’m not exactly hiding my identity since I use this name everywhere online.

                  2. Do you dyz a lot at the poker table?

                    1. “Do you dyz a lot at the poker table?”

                      Yes. As a tournament “pro” I lose often. But when I win, I win big.

                2. “In contract law, the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is a general presumption that the parties to a contract will deal with each other honestly, fairly, and in good faith, so as to not destroy the right of the other party or parties to receive the benefits of the contract”

                  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_faith_(law)

                  1. I do not understand what you think you are arguing here. You seem to think that section 230 expects a platform to be a “neutral” moderator on its site. The plain language of the statute says that the site may moderate based on whatever it finds as “provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable”.

                    Note that last point says “Otherwise objectionable”.

                    Not only that, but the people who created the statute specifically said that they wanted a proliferation of platforms with different viewpoints. They want to give leftist forums the ability to discuss leftist ideas without threat of trolls, and the same for the right.

                    If a site chooses to take a middle ground “we are neutral” stance, that is fully within their rights as well. And to the extent they achieve or fail to live up to that standard, customers should hold them accountable.

                    1. Not only that, but the people who created the statute specifically said that they wanted a proliferation of platforms with different viewpoints. They want to give leftist forums the ability to discuss leftist ideas without threat of trolls, and the same for the right.

                      Which pretty clearly states that Congress was charging themselves with creating and protecting Free Speech on the internet which they’re forbidden from doing.

                      Moreover, your quote is false quoting or out of context. You might as well be quoting the arsonist at the scene about what he thinks should happen to the guy who started the fire. Congress explicilty wanted to rein in obscenity on the internet, the law was called the Communications Decency Act. It’s not like leftists passed the law to protect right-wing viewpoints and vice versa. Leftists and rightists at the time knew that it meant they would get to dictate what constituted decency on the internet and the people who opposed the CDA at the time said that it would produce the government and socially-biased internet we have today.

                      And to the extent they achieve or fail to live up to that standard, customers should hold them accountable.

                      The market isn’t strictly between the service provider and their customer. What about the market between the employer and any employees or subcontractors? Whether the site adheres to their ‘we are neutral’ stance or not, they shouldn’t be allowed to fuck over their content providers and hide behind the ‘we are neutral’ claim any more than the content providers should be able to do the same. Except section 230 explicitly does the opposite.

                  2. “I do not understand what you think you are arguing here. You seem to think”

                    Hi you’re fucking stupid so I’ll explain.

                    I’m asking questions. The reason you don’t understand what I’m arguing is that I am seeking information and your idiot ass assumed it was arguing. I have no opinion about either side’s argument at this time.

                    Thanks.

                3. There is no evidence that they are not operating in good faith in regards to their moderation decisions. The case that fails here is yours.

                  1. There is evidence, it isn’t even inadmissible because can be no evidence, section 230 explicitly and by design biases the court against a hearing and any evidence that may exist to be presented.

                  2. “There is no evidence that they are not operating in good faith”

                    People disagree. Now what?

              2. Someone added a bunch of porn info to the IMDB database. Performers, titles reviews. WTF?

      2. Holy Fuck this is a ‘wet roads cause rain’ bullshit interpretation. Before section 230, you could curate or not. If you didn’t, you weren’t liable. After section 230, you could curate, or not but you weren’t liable either way. Section 230 doesn’t require you to refrain from all curating. Section 230 grants you legal immunity unless you engage in the wrong kinds of curating in favor of or against the right or wrong kinds of people.

        Moderate against white separatists who don’t advocate violence? Section 230 protects you. Don’t moderate against Militant Islamists who repeatedly call for specific and targeted acts of violence? Section 230 protects you. Let Russians buy ads on your platform? Fuck Section 230, fuck free speech on the internet, Congress has some heads to bust.

        Section 230 protects Congressionally-moderated free speech on the internet. It does so by giving Congress pre-emptory powers over the citizenry and the Judiciary. And this isn’t a twisted, esoteric interpretation, it’s the plainly stated intent and is born out in practice.

    2. Smells like a straw man to me. The arguments aren’t that 230 should be eviscerated. Rather, that FB/Twitter/YouTube don’t qualify for 230 status because they are actively curating content.

      Not to mention that it’s also like saying that, in disposing of the bath water, they’re trying to get rid of the baby. It is possible to throw out the bath water without throwing out the baby and acting like the baby and the bathwater can’t be separated is getting to be a slow-walked lie. Even without section 230, free speech on the internet would still be protected by the 1A.

  6. sue 3M if they used stickies?

    1. Sue McDonalds if they scalded everyone with hot, McDonalds coffee? No wait…

  7. I don’t understand this “curating” idea. Should we make libraries liable for anything that results from people reading their material since they curate their material.

    1. “I don’t understand this “curating” idea.”

      Clearly.

      1. Section 230 allows for curating. Why should it matter?

      2. Specific language from the statute itself.

        No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
        (A)any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
        (B)any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).[1]”

        https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230

        1. Good faith raises itself again.

          1. Feel free to sue on those grounds.

            1. And some are. Thanks for offering exactly dick but the truncated statute. Great discussion

              I mean, having contracts termed because of behavior that others get away with is the defintion of bad faith, but hey, the statute.

              1. If a provider finds it objectionable for a Republican to say or do something but not objectionable for a Democrat to do or say the same thing, then it is within the law to restrict the Republican. Since the provider gets to determine what is objectionable and what isn’t, according to the statute.

                1. I mean, they apparently have the capacity to catch and eliminate thought they don’t like, but don’t take any action against criminal plotting?
                  Curious…

                2. That would LEGALLY be bad faith.

                  Now what?

                  1. Why would that be “bad faith”?

                  2. Are you arguing that r/pol is illegal because they only censor conservatives?

        2. I don’t like it Obscene
          I think it is factually inaccurate Objectionable

          FB/Twitter/YouTube are blowing these admittedly vague terms to effectively cover all sorts of speech not traditionally defined under these terms.

          And yet you refuse to give these terms meaning at all.

          1. Damn HTML Filter….

            I don’t like it (NOT EQUAL TO) Obscene
            I think it is factually inaccurate (NOT EQUAL TO) Objectionable

          2. They aren’t supposed to be objective terms. The language of section 230 allows for subjective curating as long as it is done in “good faith”.

            1. “Good faith” doesn’t imply unlimited curating. It simply says that if something is curated, they’re not liable, as long as the curation process is limited to things defined as Obscene…

              They’re intentionally curating content that is outside of of the 230 boundaries.

              1. ““Good faith” doesn’t imply unlimited curating. It simply says that if something is curated, they’re not liable, as long as the curation process is limited to things defined as Obscene…

                They’re intentionally curating content that is outside of of the 230 boundaries.”

                Not true. There is no legal, objective definition of what is “obscene”.

                I mean it is in the language of the statute.

                “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene”

                1. Why is “good faith” included if words don’t have meaning?

                  1. Because it prevents them from lying to you about what might be moderated or curated. It also prevents them from using language in the ToS that would imply one thing while doing another. Basically prevents fraud.

                    1. But you just said:
                      “There is no legal, objective definition of what is “obscene”.”
                      So why include “good faith” if there is no legal standard as to what it, or terms like “obscene”, mean?

                    2. “But you just said:
                      “There is no legal, objective definition of what is “obscene”.”
                      So why include “good faith” if there is no legal standard as to what it, or terms like “obscene”, mean?”

                      I already answered that question. Having no legal standard for “obscene” doesn’t make it impossible to lie about what you may or may not censor.

          3. As third parties, it is not our place to give meaning to these terms. The statute specifically says that if the “provider or user considers” content to be obscene or objectionable, they are allowed to moderate it.

            And I get that YouTube and Facebook are a bunch of leftist douchebags, but the remedy is NOT to regulate them. In fact we have seen them trying to moderate “fake news” and remove dissenting voices precisely BECAUSE they are afraid of the government coming in and telling them what they can and cannot accept on that platform.

            Ten years ago YouTube and Facebook were tiny entities growing as they displaced other behemoth sites. If they fuck up bad enough to alienate half the country, they too will be replaced. Unless you cement their position with a bunch of legal protections- such as moderation rules that make it impossible for small companies to compete.

            1. Who’s job is it then to give those terms meaning?

              1. The provider and the user, as it pertains to this law anyways.

              2. “Who’s job is it then to give those terms meaning?”

                The “provider or user”. It is spelled out in the statute quoted above. No action may be taken against the provider for moderating content that “the provider or user considers” objectionable. So it doesn’t matter if you consider it objectionable or not. If the provider considers it objectionable, they may remove it.

                Reason is one of the least moderating sites around. Other than spam and illegal content, they let anything go in the comments. And that makes a lot of people avoid the comments because it can get pretty nasty. Other people prefer a site that tries to police trolling. The beauty is that section 230 allows for all of them.

                1. And they hardly ever remove spam either, no matter how many times I reflexively flag it.

                2. Other people prefer a site that tries to police trolling. The beauty is that section 230 allows for all of them.

                  So, prior to section 230 nobody moderated their forums while other people didn’t?

                  It’s like you people have no clue why section 230 was passed and just accept that it will continue to be interpreted the way you think it will when, in fact, your interpretation isn’t the original.

                  All of the sudden you idiots trust Congress to indirectly regulate speech and directly void people’s right to petition and are incredulous when Congress tries to alter the deal.

                  1. How does Section 230 “regulate” speech? What speech is it preventing? Or requiring?

              3. Normally, it would be a judge, a plaintiff, a defendant, their lawyers maybe a jury but, in this case, Congress created those terms and can define them as they see fit.

            2. Violence then?

    2. I don’t understand this “curating” idea.

      That’s because you’re being willfully retarded. The idea of legally distinguishing an author from an editor from a publisher from a distributor both under civil law as well as Federal/criminal law is not new.

      Only willfully retarded people act like it was invented in 1997 when Al Gore plugged in the internet for us.

  8. Nevertheless I would like to see Zuckerberg in prison.

  9. the lawsuit claimed that Hamas “used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

    Well, there’s the reason for not hearing the lawsuit. It should have said “used, utilized, exercised, employed, and otherwise relied on” and “facilitate, cause, implement, assist with, and otherwise carry out”.

  10. COVID-19: Medical experts warn the virus could be a constant threat for some time. https://twitter.com/i/events/1219057585707315201

    No doubt. Technically speaking, a single millisecond is “some time.”

    1. But if the lockdowns and knee-capping the economy save just one life…

  11. What kind of person would take a job as a facebook moderator?

    Who, on career day, says they want a job that allows them to moderate what people post on social media?

    1. Are you fucking kidding me? I’d expect any given college classroom to have at least a half dozen Karens who would volunteer and at least a dozen dudes volunteering hoping to impress their way into any one of the Karens’ pants.

      And that’s if you’re looking for no experience/straight out of college, otherwise, you have to look past the army of feminist studies Ph.D.s working at Starbucks

      1. A lot of the dudes these days aren’t even trying to get in Karens’ pants… they’re Karens themselves

    2. TrickyVic…I understand that the FB moderators see a lot of pretty ugly shit on a daily basis, and they have access to counseling. I don’t think I would want that job.

  12. Who cares. Burn Facebook and twitter to the ground.

  13. I hear they also used paper, printers, computers, ball-point pens, and, truth be known, toilets when they had to take a crap.
    Potatch, HP, Apple, Bic and Togo are expecting suits.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.