Lawsuit blames Google, Facebook, Twitter for San Bernardino terror attack

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in a California federal court blames Google, Facebook and Twitter for helping to cause the 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino that left 14 dead.

The suit, filed on behalf of the families of three of those killed in the Dec. 2 attack at a Christmas party for country workers, mirrors similar suits filed by the same law firm in cases involving terror attacks in Dallas and Orlando, Fla. The plaintiffs say the social media giants failed to adequately scrub their online properties of messages from ISIS meant to inspire the terror attacks.

“For years, Defendants have knowingly and recklessly provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts to use its social networks as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds, and attracting new recruits,” reads the complaint, filed by attorneys Keith Altman and Theida Salazar.

“Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” the suit alleges.

The attorneys represent survivors of Sierra Clayborn, Tin Nguyen and Nicholas Thalasinos, who were among those killed by the husband and wife terrorist duo of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. The couple targeted a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health Christmas party in a rented banquet room.

The suit alleges wrongful death, aiding and abetting terror and providing material support to terrorist among other charges.

At the heart of the lawsuit – and similar ones filed by the families of victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting last June and the assassination of five cops in Dallas a month later – is the interpretation of a provision tucked deep inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 called Section 230.

The language of Section 230 states 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." In layman’s terms, this basically means that sites like Facebook or YouTube are not liable for what their users post on their sites.

Section 230 of the CDA has protected social media sites in the past, but some lawyers and social media experts have begun to argue sites like Facebook may be violating the provision with their heavily-guarded algorithms. Despite these algorithms having come under fire before – from how Facebook curated its Trending Topics to accusations that YouTube was censoring people – these recent lawsuits allege something much more nefarious behind one of the tech world’s most secretive processes.

Facebook and Twitter say they are doing everything they can to prevent terror groups from using their sites, but experts contend the companies are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the issue as the web giants have voiced willingness to aid in the fight but have been less than transparent when it comes to sharing proprietary information like their algorithms.

In a statement to, a Facebook spokesperson said the company was "committed to providing a service where people feel safe when using Facebook.

"Our Community Standards make clear that there is no place on Facebook for groups that engage in terrorist activity or for content that expresses support for such activity," the statement continued, "and we take swift action to remove this content when it’s reported to us. We sympathize with the victims and their families."

In a story about the suit that stemmed from the Dallas attack, a Twitter official emailed the company’s policy prohibiting the promotion of terrorism.

Google has also said it is working with other social media companies to curb the spread of terrorist content. The effort includes creating a shared industry database of unique digital "fingerprints" related to terrorism.