A federal court in the Eastern District of New York dismissed a lawsuit that held Facebook responsible for multiple violent events in Israel in 2015.
According to the lawsuit, the events, called “the Facebook Intifada”, were triggered and then coordinated by a number of Facebook accounts linking to Hamas. The lawsuit demanded from the court to issue an order forcing Facebook to stop providing services to named terrorists, while also ponying up to $1 billion in monetary damages.
The ruling shows the court found Facebook could not be held liable for those accounts and subsequent actions. The result is a legal win for Facebook that could have broader implications for web platforms around the world.
“Facebook’s choices as to who may use its platform are inherently bound up in its decisions as to what may be said on its platform,” the ruling reads, citing established protections for speech. Since Facebook is protected from civil claims against particular speech acts on its network, the judge reasoned, the company is also protected from claims against who it allows on the network.
Much of the basis for the ruling lies in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the Safe Harbor clause that protects online platforms such as Facebook from various forms of liability. Since Facebook is protected from civil claims against particular speech acts on its network, the judge Nicholas G. Garaufis reasoned that the social network company is also protected from claims against who it allows on the network, thus falling within Section 230 protections.
When all is said and done, the ruling might have broader implications, especially Section 230 as it applies to terrorism cases. There is a strong belief among some legal experts that Section 230 doesn’t provide protection for social media platforms in cases of material support to terrorist groups, based on the fact that access to social networks provides a verifiable communications benefit. Despite a handful of lawsuits hell bent on making Safe Harbor a case, the courts are not seeing it that way, for the time being anyway.
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