Twitter, Facebook, Google Win Suit by Victims of Pulse Shooting

Sept. 27, 2021, 3:10 PM

Twitter, Google, and Facebook aren’t liable to the victims of the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., because it wasn’t an act of international terrorism, the Eleventh Circuit said Monday.

The shooter, Omar Mateen, described himself as an “Islamic soldier” and declared his allegiance to The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS later took credit for the shooting.

The victims claimed that the social media companies aided and abetted international terrorism by facilitating Mateen’s access to radical jihadist and ISIS-sponsored content on their platforms.

The Anti-Terrorism Act defines “international terrorism” as acts that “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished.”

The shooting didn’t “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” and it didn’t “transcend national boundaries,” the opinion by Judge Adalberto Jordan said.

Mateen was self-radicalized on the Internet while living in Florida and came to identify with ISIS, the court said. He committed the shooting in Florida, it said.

Mateen’s “deadly acts of domestic terrorism—and the means by which he accomplished them—do not plausibly transcend national boundaries,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said.

The plaintiffs also failed to show that ISIS committed, planned, or authorized the Pulse massacre, the court said. Although ISIS took credit for the attack after the fact, there was nothing in the complaint to suggest that it knew beforehand about Mateen’s plans, it said.

Judges Andrew L. Brasher and Julie E. Carnes joined the opinion.

Keith L. Altman of Farmington Hills, Mich., represented the plaintiffs. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, Bailey & Glasser LLP, and Shutts & Bowen LLP represented Twitter. Zuckerman Spaeder LLP and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati represented Google. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Akerman LLP represented Facebook.

The case is Colon v. Twitter Inc., 11th Cir., No. 20-11283, 9/27/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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