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Judge dismisses suits against Facebook, Google, Twitter in San Bernardino shooting

The federal judge ruled that the 2015 attack that killed 14 was not the direct result of the companies allegedly providing resources to Islamic State.
Image: San Bernardino Shooting
Authorities in San Bernardino, California, during the 2015 mass shooting.Jae C. Hong / AP

A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits seeking to hold Facebook , Google and Twitter liable to victims of the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, for allowing Islamic State to flourish on their social media platforms.

In a decision late Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said the attack, which killed 14 people and injured 22 others, was not the direct result of the companies allegedly providing resources to Islamic State.

"A contrary conclusion poses boundless litigation risk and is not tenable given how interconnected communication services are with modern economic and social life," the judge wrote.

Beeler also found no liability for aiding and abetting terrorism under the 2016 Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, finding allegations only that the companies were "generally aware" that Islamic State used their services.

The plaintiffs included victims and relatives of victims of the Dec. 2, 2015 attack at a government building by Syed Farook, 28, a U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 29, a native of Pakistan.

Authorities have said the couple was inspired by Islamist militants. Both died soon after the attack in a police shootout. Islamic State said Farook and Malik were two of its followers.

Beeler dismissed the lawsuits with prejudice, meaning they cannot be filed again, citing other courts' rejections of similar claims in other cases.

Federal law gives internet companies broad immunity from liability for content posted by users.

Keith Altman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, on Wednesday said the decision was "not a surprise," and that issues including the impact of JASTA and what constitutes direct liability should be addressed at the appellate level.

Facebook, Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Google is a unit of Alphabet Inc.

Altman plans on Jan. 15 to ask the federal appeals court in Cincinnati to revive a similar lawsuit against the three companies in 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people.

The shooter, New York-born Omar Mateen, who was later killed by police, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State's leader.