Social Media Accountability for Terrorist Propaganda
By Alexander Tsesis
Terrorist organizations have found social media websites to be invaluable for disseminating ideology, recruiting terrorists, and planning operations. National and international leaders have repeatedly pointed out the dangers terrorists pose to ordinary people and state institutions. In the United States, the federal Communications Decency Act’s § 230 provides social networking websites with immunity against civil law suits. Litigants have therefore been unsuccessful in obtaining redress against internet companies who host or disseminate third-party terrorist content. This Article demonstrates that § 230 does not bar private parties from recovery if they can prove that a social media company had received complaints about specific webpages, videos, posts, articles, IP addresses, or accounts of foreign terrorist organizations; the company’s failure to remove the material; a terrorist’s subsequent viewing of or interacting with the material on the website; and that terrorist’s acting upon the propaganda to harm the plaintiff.
This Article argues that irrespective of civil immunity, the First Amendment does not limit Congress’s authority to impose criminal liability on those content intermediaries who have been notified that their websites are hosting third-party foreign terrorist incitement, recruitment, or instruction. Neither the First Amendment nor the Communications Decency Act prevents this form of federal criminal prosecution. A social media company can be prosecuted for material support of terrorism if it is knowingly providing a platform to organizations or individuals who advocate the commission of terrorist acts. Mechanisms will also need to be created that can enable administrators to take emergency measures, while simultaneously preserving the due process rights of internet intermediaries to challenge orders to immediately block, temporarily remove, or permanently destroy data.