An Israeli law group said Thursday it will sue Twitter unless the social media site cuts off access to Hezbollah and other groups that are considered terrorist organizations by the U.S.
Shurat HaDin, which says its mission is “bankrupting terrorism, one lawsuit at a time,” wrote a letter to Twitter from its New York office asking for confirmation it would shut down Hezbollah’s account, MSNBC reports. The group also writes that Twitter’s service of these groups violates a 2010 Supreme Court case declaring unlawful “any assistance or support” to terrorist organizations.
A spokesman for Twitter said the company does not have any comment about the potential lawsuit. Twitter, however, has long made clear it does not take political sides, does not easily shut down users’ accounts, and uses free speech as its guiding principle.
When the Egypt protests started, for example, Twitter teamed up with Google to create speak2tweet, a service that allowed protesters to circumvent the government’s Internet shutdown. At the time, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone celebrated the collaboration as proof of his company’s “mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely.” Stone has said repeatedly that free speech is a “human right” for everyone.
Twitter has also refused frequent requests by activist groups, celebrities and governments to shut down accounts that include information they don’t want online.
Earlier Thursday, for example, Twitter was ordered to hand over information about the account of an Occupy Boston protester. The company not only refused to keep the subpoena secret but even alerted the account holder that his information was being asked for.
Joe Sellers, a first amendment lawyer at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Washington, says he doesn’t think that Shurat HaDin has a case. Making the comparison to advertisements in newspapers, Sellers says that all Twitter is doing is “providing a public forum” that is “content-neutral.”
“I don’t see how Twitter’s provision of a forum would constitute providing aid and support of a terrorist group,” Seller says.
The Hezbollah Twitter account with which Shurat HaDin has a problem, @almanarnews, represents a Lebanese satellite television station affiliated with Hezbollah, and shares a variety of links with its nearly 8,000 followers.
Its most recent tweets in English spoke about Iran’s plan to test long-range missiles, a bomb attack in Afghanistan on civilians, and Russia’s declaration that the Arab League’s visit to Syria was “reassuring.”
The Middle East Forum describes Al-Manar News this way: “Calling itself the ‘station of resistance,’ al-Manar has become an integral part of Hezbollah's plan to reach the entire Arab and Muslim worlds.”
Could Twitter be the next step in its global outreach?
Shurat HaDin thinks so. In its press release, the group writes that the account shows Hezbollah “and its terrorist networks have entered the global world of social media to further their murderous agenda.”
Earlier, Shurat HaDin explored legal action against Facebook for a page established by Palestinian extremists calling for a “Third Intifada” against Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that Facebook took the page down after discovering administrators of the page were participating in calls for violence.
But Will McCants, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis, told NPR this week there is no research to show terrorists are getting new recruits from Twitter or other social networks.
“Social media is interesting as a new outlet for terrorist groups,” McCants said. “But in terms of achieving al-Qaeda's goal or the Taliban’s goal of creating new recruits. ... I think it is a complete disaster.”
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