Can litigation against social media platforms help disarm terrorist organizations?

I have long believed that it is a melancholy but inescapable truth that in too many cases it takes litigation to get powerful corporate interests to do what they ought to do in the public interest.  These days I think that there are instances where civil or criminal legal action against social media companies whose platforms are being used by terrorists could provide a needed incentive.

It’s no secret to the companies that their social media platforms have become key enablers of terrorism.  CIA Director John Brennan called them out when he told Congress last June that:

ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) releases a multitude of media products on a variety of platforms—including social media, mobile applications, radio, and hardcopy mediums.  To disseminate its official online propaganda, the group primarily uses Twitter, Telegram, and Tumblr, and it relies on a global network of sympathizers to further spread its messages.

It’s undeniable that we live in an age—as researchers at the Danish Defence College put it—of the “weaponization of social media,” and that our terrorist enemies are very successfully using that “weapon.”

What to do about it?  Over on Lawfare I discuss (“Do Both Candidates Support More Aggressive Material Support Litigation?”) using civil and criminal processes against social media platforms where their products are proven to be providing “material support” to terrorists and/or terrorist organizations.

It is true that in the shadow of burgeoning civil litigation some social media companies have begun to take down thousands of accounts connected with terrorism that violate their user agreements.  But I also believe that more can be done, and that seismic change in industries can be spurred by litigation as there is nothing like the specter of jail or enormous civil judgments to motivate them to reform themselves.

Ask yourself: without litigation would the auto industry have built safer cars?  Would big tobacco have put prominent warnings on their products?  Would the pharmaceutical companies have worked as hard as they do to ensure the safety of their drugs?  And more recently, do you think that the Arab Bank case just might cause financial institutions to be more wary of their shady customers?

Anyway, again, the longer discussion is found here.

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