(Reuters)- Twitter is being sued by the widow of an American killed in Jordan, who accuses the social media company of giving a voice to Islamic State, adding to the pressure to crack down on online propaganda linked to terrorism.
Tamara Fields, a Florida woman whose husband Lloyd died in the Nov. 9 attack on the police training center in Amman, said Twitter knowingly let the militant Islamist group use its network to spread propaganda, raise money and attract recruits.
Lawyers specializing in terrorism said Fields faces an uphill battle though the case could lead to more calls for social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook Inc to take down posts associated with terrorist groups.
In her complaint filed on Wednesday, Fields said San Francisco-based Twitter had until recently given Islamic State, also known as ISIS, an “unfettered” ability to maintain official Twitter accounts.
“Without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” according to the complaint, which was filed in the federal court in Oakland, California.
Fields want Twitter to pay her triple damages for violating the federal Anti-Terrorism Act by having provided material support to terrorists.
Her lawyer said he believes it is the first case in which a social media company is accused of violating that law.
“While we believe the lawsuit is without merit, we are deeply saddened to hear of this family’s terrible loss,” Twitter said in a statement about the civil lawsuit. “Violent threats and the promotion of terrorism deserve no place on Twitter and, like other social networks, our rules make that clear.”
PRESSURE ON SILICON VALLEY
Last Friday, the Obama administration set up a task force to crack down on extremist groups using the Internet to advance their goals, find recruits and plan attacks such as recent killings in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Senior national security officials also met with technology executives in Silicon Valley last week to discuss what more could be done to counter Islamist militants.
“Social media plays an important role in allowing ISIS to recruit foreign fighters,” said Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law professor and former U.S. Treasury Department official specializing in terrorist financing.
Islamic State, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, has used the Internet regularly to spread its message.
The Brookings Institution think tank has estimated that Islamic State supporters operated at least 46,000 Twitter accounts between September and December 2014.
Twitter has positioned itself as a defender of free speech, and been reluctant to censor.
According to its online “transparency report,” Twitter honored none of the 25 requests from U.S. government and law enforcement authorities to remove posts between January and June 2015.
Twitter said it honored 42 percent of the 1,003 removal requests from governments, law enforcement and courts worldwide during that period, and withheld 158 accounts and 2,354 tweets. It said more than two-thirds of the requests came from Turkey.