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Families of Orlando Victims Sue Social Media; Michelle Obama's Final Interview; Civilians Evacuated from Aleppo; Russian Plan to Address Syrian Crisis. Aired 9:30-10:00a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wall Street thinks Donald Trump will be very good for business. Since the low on February 11th of this year, the Dow is up 27 percent almost. Remember the first few days of the trading year last year? Everything looked so glum. Things have turned around. Now you've got the Fed raising interest rates. How will that play with the Donald Trump pro- growth - what is perceived to be pro-growth policies? That all is a story for 2017, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I can't wait. Christine Romans, thanks so much. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Three families who lost loved ones in the Orlando gay nightclub targeted by a terrorist are suing FaceBook, Google and Twitter. They blame social media for the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years. They say without Google, FaceBook or Twitter that growth would not have been possible.

CNN national correspondent Deborah Feyerick is following this for us this morning.

Good morning.


And that's right, these companies basically are being sued by families who excuse Twitter, Google and FaceBook of providing material support to ISIS. Now, material support is usually a charge that federal prosecutors bring against people who help terrorists. But in this case, the Pulse families allege that these social media giants knowingly and recklessly allow ISIS to use social media accounts in three ways. First, to spread propaganda. Second, to raise money and recruit people, like Pulse gunman Omar Mateen, who the FBI says was radicalized online. And the suit says without Twitter, FaceBook and Google, which owns YouTube, where we've seen these videos, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last two years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible. [09:35:16] Now, lawyers accuse Twitter of allowing ISIS accounts to

promote its brutal terror videos, solicit donations and essentially connect with one another. And they accuse Google of making money from ads that run just before these horrible videos. They also accuse FaceBook of providing a platform to spread violence and hate. And earlier this month, the social media company said that they are joining together to identify terrorist content and keep it from being shared. Twitter has said it shut down some 360,000 accounts since August and FaceBook has said in a similar lawsuit filed by these very same lawyers that the company is trying to aggressively get rid of content that either promotes or supports terrorism. But it's a big issue because a lot of families say, look, if it weren't for these platforms, ISIS and its strength, its power would not be as great as it is.

COSTELLO: Interesting. Deborah Feyerick reporting for us this morning, thank you.

So joining me now the attorney in the case, Keith Altman.

Welcome, sir.

You're representing the three victims' families who are suing these companies. You just heard Deborah Feyerick lay it all out. It seems like a tough road. Do you think it will be?

KEITH ALTMAN, ATTORNEY: Good morning, Carol.

My firm, (INAUDIBLE) Law Firm, we've really been spending a lot of time looking at the social media issue here. It's our belief that these companies provide an instrument that ISIS can use to conduct terrorist activities. And they do this by providing an infrastructure that allows them to create a web, to spread a web, and even when they take these people down, Twitter says they took down 350,000 accounts, the problems is they didn't keep them down. It's weed whacking. They take the top off the weeds and they leave the roots. So we believe that these companies could do far more to prevent ISIS from using this as an instrument to promote hate and then, you know -

COSTELLO: Well - well -

ALTMAN: I'm sorry.

COSTELLO: You're alleging that FaceBook, Google and Twitter purposely doing this to make money. That's a serious charge.

ALTMAN: Well, we don't say that they're doing it purposely to make money, but what we're saying is that they - you have ISIS postings and you have advertisements and you have these companies taking a look at a posting, taking a look at an advertisement, taking a look at their viewer and matching the three of those things together. And so whether they're intentionally doing it or not, the fact is that they are doing it. And there are things that they could be doing prevent terrorist from conducting operations. For example, they allow a terrorist, when they take them down, to come right back up. He changes the name, for example, in the complaint we talk about, a guy named Drift1146 (ph), was the 146th version of his account. And then they take him down, he comes back the next day and he immediately sends out mass friend and following request to all the people he was connected to in the past. Well, that's very suspicious behavior. It's very obviously that it can be detected. And these companies do nothing about it. And that simply has to stop.

COSTELLO: Well, there is something called the Communications Decency Act, and it says providers can't be held liable for what users post. In other words, this Communications Decency Act protests our First Amendment rights. We're free to say whatever we want in this country. So how do you get around that?

ALTMAN: Well, well let me give you an example. It's kind of a common sense example. You can take a statement from one person and a statement from another person. You can pull one sentence out of one statement and one sentence out of the other statement. You can put them together and you can say something completely different than what either one of those people said, even though you haven't written one word.

Well, in this context, these companies take a posting from ISIS. They take it an advertisement. They look at the viewer who's looking at it at that particular point in time and they decide to match up that ad and that post - that ad, that posting for that viewer. Well, that's creating new content and section 230 does not protect companies if they are information content providers, as we have alleged here, and we think that this is - section 230 was never intended to protect this type (ph) of content. And, frankly, we don't think the American public will stand for what's effectively a get out of jail free card that allowed these companies to not act reasonably, just like you and I have to do and everybody in this country's expected to act reasonably. These companies can act recklessly and says, it's not our problem, we've got this protection here.

COSTELLO: But these companies, they handle millions of tweets, millions of FaceBook posts. I mean it's not - I mean you're making it sound like it's easy, and it's not, to weed out this hate.

ALTMAN: Well, it's not a question of weeding out the hate, but remember something, every time you go and you look at Twitter, FaceBook, Google and you see an ad, that ad was particularly picked for you. If these companies can take the time to decide on every posting I look at what ad to show to me, then why can't they be looking at the posting, why can't they prevent this mass reconnection that takes place? There's many, many things that these companies can do. If they put one small fraction of the money they spend on targeted - on developing algorithms for targeted advertising towards preventing ISIS and others from using their instruments, I think we wouldn't be having this problem today.

[09:40:14] COSTELLO: Keith Altman, thank you for being with me this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, she helped her husband win the highest office, but do you think Michelle Obama will run for office herself?


COSTELLO: Michelle Obama made history as the nation's first African- American first lady. And with just weeks until she goes back to a somewhat private life, Mrs. Obama is putting to rest any rumors and possibly hopes that she could one day return to the White House, only this time as president.


OPRAH WINFREY: Would you ever run for office?


WINFREY: I have to ask it.

OBAMA: No. No.

WINFREY: No kind of office?

OBAMA: No. I - look that's one thing I don't do. I don't make stuff up. I'm not coy. I have proven that.


OBAMA: I'm pretty direct. If I was interested in it, I'd say it. I don't believe in playing games, you know? I - it's not something I would do. But it also speaks to the fact that people don't really understand how hard this is. And it's not something that you cavalierly just sort of ask a family to do again.


COSTELLO: All right, so let's talk about that and more. Julian Zelizer is here, he's a Princeton historian and professor, and Larry Sabato joins me, he's the director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Welcome to both of you.


COSTELLO: So, Larry, you heard what Mrs. Obama said. She said a campaign of her own is off the table, but President Obama recently told NPR that they both will play a role in cultivating the next generation of Democratic lawmakers. Is that more valuable?

[09:45:03] LARRY SABATO, DIR., UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, it's certainly very valuable because the bench is almost empty for Democrats and part of that as a result of the Obama administration. Those mid-term elections have been disastrous for Democrats. And, look, I believe her completely. I think Michelle Obama does not want to run for public office, which probably is the same as getting a certificate of sanity. However, I wouldn't be surprised, Carol, if there were a draft movement at some time in the future, say starting around 2019. It's possible. She can shut it down with a Sherman-esque statement that if nominated she'll run for the border. But I wouldn't be surprised if some Democrats try to get her to run.

COSTELLO: Julian, as Larry said, the bench is almost empty. So why wouldn't there be a push for her to want to - a big for her to run for something?

ZELIZER: Look, there will be a push for her to stay involved in politics. The other thing that will happen is whatever President-elect Trump and the Republican Congress do. They could take steps in terms of public policy that motivate her in ways that she's not anticipating to say, well, someone is needed to take on this administration, to run for president. So either if she's doing that or she's involved in Eleanor Roosevelt kind of post-presidential politics, I imagine is going to be a lot of pressure given her performance to stay in the game.

COSTELLO: You know, something else interesting she said and when we played that little byte her interview, Larry, is that running for president, being president of the United States, was incredibly hardship on the president's family, especially the children. It's not going to be any easier for Trump' children either, is it?

SABATO: No. No. It's living in a fish bowl. Look, presidential children get loads of privileges, no question about it. And they get to meet, you know, princes and queens from all over the world and all the rest of it. But there's a real down side and some of the former children who have lived in the - in the White House have noted it's not a lot of fun to go on a date followed by your Secret Service agents, among other things. So, you know, it's - on the whole, I think you'd rather have the experience than not. But I certainly understand those sentiments.

COSTELLO: Oh, absolutely. Especially, I understand why Melania Trump wants to protect her young son, although Trump's other children, Julian, are kind of like inserting themselves into the public fray.

ZELIZER: Right. I mean this is a little different. Other than the youngest son, you have the children who have all been actively part of the campaign and it looks like they will be active advisers in different capacities to their father in the White House, as well as the son-in-law. And because of the conflict of interest and the way in which he's handling the business, they remain central to his economic empire. So this is a case where, you know, it's one thing to talk about young children and the pressure they face, but here the Trumps are really inserting their kids front and center in the events of the next four years.

COSTELLO: Yes, I was just trying to find something that just came in my e-mail box that Ivanka Trump already tweeted out condolences for the people in Berlin, Germany. So she's insert herself into the fray already.

Larry, Mrs. Obama also said her greatest impact as first lady was a role model for African-American women. In your mind, what was the biggest impact she had on the country? SABATO: Well, I think as part of a highly functioning, extremely

successful African-American family, this was a great image for the country, not just for African-Americans, for all Americans. So I think that has got to be her accomplishment, which is kind of a co- accomplishment with her husband, the first African-American president.

But she did loads of things. She was a very active first lady. She was involved with many public issues, including the health of children and adults, promoting good food and nutrition. Things that a first lady can do and can accomplish with some controversy, but not nearly as much controversy as a presidential husband.

COSTELLO: And, Julian, Michelle Obama took an awful lot of criticism for even her, you know, her healthy eating campaign. Do you think that Melania Trump will take such criticism for other things?

ZELIZER: Well, often first ladies come under criticism for different reasons. Nancy Reagan, for example, came under a lot of criticism from many Democrats about how she was handling the war on drugs and what she was saying about how to deal with substance abuse. It comes with the office. Melania will have criticism at some point. I'm not sure what she's going to do. But there will be people who don't like her and people who use her as a way to talk about the problems with the administration. So this is part of the role and I think many first ladies have learned that and they've continued to move forward with their efforts regardless.

[09:50:19] COSTELLO: All right, I have to leave it there. Julian Zelizer, Larry Sabato, thanks, as always.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a day after their ambassador was gunned down, Russian diplomats come face-to-face with their Turkish counterparts to strategize over Syria. And they have strong words about tackling terrorism.


COSTELLO: Russia says it's crafted a plan to confront the crisis in Syria. The details hammered out a short time ago in Moscow. Russia hosted a meeting with ministers from Turkey and Iran. We're also learning that more than 37,000 civilians have already been evacuated from the war zone in Aleppo and the Turkish foreign minister says all evacuations are expected to be finished by tomorrow.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is live on the Turkish/Syrian border with more.

Hi, Muhammad.


In fact, that time line might be moved up a little bit, accord to opposition sources, as well as Syrian state television. The final evacuations could take place as soon as today and by later this evening what that would mean is that all of the people in eastern Aleppo, those last few rebel stronghold, could be evacuated. So tomorrow morning when we wake up, we could wake up to a very new reality in Syria, and that reality would be that the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad will have full control over the city of Aleppo for the first time in four years.

Now, as that is all happening on the ground, you mentioned that big diplomatic push. Moscow calling it the Moscow Initiative, saying that the people that are negotiating in Moscow right now, specifically Turkey, Russia and Iran, are in a position to guarantee that if the ceasefire is in place, they're able to guarantee that none of the groups under their control violate that ceasefire. And that's very important.

[09:55:06] Interestingly enough, they also took a - what you could perceive as a shot at the United States in that declaration, saying that all the previous plans that the United States and its partners have come up with to establish a ceasefire in Syria never worked out because the United States never really had any influence in the region to begin with. But clearly as we're seeing today, Turkey, Russia, and Iran all have a major stake in what's going on in Syria. And with this new announcement, it could lay the groundwork for some sort of future ceasefire moving forward.

COSTELLO: All right, Muhammad Lila reporting live for us this morning, thank you.

Checking some other top stories for you at 55 minutes past.

An underwater drone is now back in U.S. hands after it was seized by China last week. The incident took place in international waters off the coast of the Philippines where U.S. officials say the Chinese navy took the drone from an unarmed - from an unnamed survey ship. The Pentagon, which called the seizure, quote, "unlawful," says its investigation is ongoing.

Search teams trying to recover the wreckage of Malaysia Flight 370 have likely been looking in the wrong place. That's the finding of a new report from the Australian government. But the report does not give a specific location for the plane, so the country's transportation minister says the search area will not be extended unless new evidence surfaces. The search for MH 370 is due to be completed in the next few months.

Two-time Wimbledon champion. She says an armed robber broke into her Czech Republic apartment and she was hurt defending herself. She suffered injuries to the tendons and fingers and her left hand, which is her playing hand. She says the injury is severe and she's fortunate to be alive. The robber is still on the run.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.


COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Violent attacks around the world. In Berlin, a truck plowed through a crowd of shoppers at a busy Christmas market killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.