Lawsuit filed against social media companies over Dallas ambush shooting

A new lawsuit claims social media companies created a hostile atmosphere that led to a gunman shooting and killing five Dallas officers last July.

The suit alleges Facebook, Google and Twitter are sponsors of terrorism because they allow inflammatory posts and that they make money from the posts by the ads they attach to them.

The lawsuit aims to force social media sites to have strict content regulations, but legal experts say the case will be difficult to prove. Dallas attorney Nicole Knox, who is not a part of the lawsuit, said it seems unlikely the suit would be successful.

“It’s a tough sale from a moral standpoint that we're allowing this to happen, but under the law I think it’s permitted,” Knox said.

ISIS posted a new YouTube video in early June this year of the July 7 ambush shootings using footage from a bystander's cell phone in a parking garage showing officers under siege at Main Street and Lamar.

Eric Feinberg's GIPEC security company scours social media for this type content.

“Basically what it’s doing is being used to recruit and radicalize using the Dallas attack to cause other attacks against law enforcement and interest in the U.S.,” Feinberg said.

It's not the only example of such provocative imagery. A Facebook post one day before the attack last year showed a cartoon image of someone appearing to be an ISIS fighter killing a police officer. That prompted Dallas Police Sergeant Demetrick Pennie to sue Facebook for refusing to take the image down.

“The message we got from social media uh Facebook was that it didn’t violate their terms or conditions it didn’t violate their community standards,” Sgt. Pennie said.

Dallas shooter Micah Johnson reportedly shared the image on social media before the attack. Days after the attack, Facebook did begin to remove the image from pages where it was deemed to incite against police officers.

“Everybody and anybody that had connection with these deaths should be held accountable,” said Rick Zamarripa, father of one of the five officers killed. He has also joined the suit.

“If it wasn’t for them, you know, they wouldn’t be able to communicate. These radicals wouldn’t be able to communicate and organize.”

The lawsuit charges social media corporations with "providing material support to terrorist groups and profiting from the content those groups posts."

The social media companies say courts have repeatedly protected online service providers from liability in cases where the content belongs to others.

In a statement, they said they “have profound sympathy for those affected by the Dallas shooting and are committed to combating the spread of terrorist content online.”

Michigan attorney Keith Altman, who is bringing the lawsuit, argues the 2016 Justice Against Terrorism Act overrides the liability protections for social media platforms.

“These companies are not going to be able to conduct business the way they've been doing in the past,” Altman said. “They're gonna have to do something differently, they're gonna have to do something better.”

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