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The Supreme Court rules in favor of Twitter and Google, avoiding the Article 230 issue for now


On Thursday, the Supreme Court resolved two adjacent cases to hold social platforms liable for dangerous content. The two cases, Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google, sought to hold both technology platforms responsible for hosting Islamic State content that promoted the terrorist organization in connection with violent attacks.

The Supreme Court has one unanimous decision in the first casefinding that Twitter failed to help and support the Islamic State when the group attacked a Turkish nightclub in 2017. The case revolved around whether an anti-terrorism law could be applied to hold online platforms liable.

Justice Thomas released the court’s verdict:

The connection between the defendants and the attack on Reina (nightclub) is far removed. As alleged by plaintiffs, Defendants designed virtual platforms and knowingly did not do “enough” to remove ISIS-affiliated users and ISIS-related content — from hundreds of millions of users worldwide and an immense ocean of content — from their platforms. Yet plaintiffs have not alleged that the Defendants intentionally provided substantial assistance to the Reina attack or otherwise knowingly participated in the Reina attack — let alone that the Defendants assisted ISIS so pervasively and systematically as to be liable for any ISIS -attack.

The Supreme Court ruling in Twitter v. Taamneh was applied Gonzalez to Google, a related case it was investigating. “Since we believe that the complaint in that case does not contain a claim for complicity under §2333(d)(2), it appears that the complaint here also makes no such claim,” the court wrote.

Twitter v. Taamneh sought to blame Twitter for a deadly terrorist attack that resulted in the death of Nawras Alassaf, who was killed after an Islamic State gunman opened fire at an Istanbul nightclub in 2017. In Gonzalez v. Google , the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a victim of the 2015 Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris, argued that Google should be liable for terrorist content promoted on YouTube prior to the attack.

Depending on how the Supreme Court handled it, the Gonzalez v. Google case, in particular, had the potential to change legal interpretations of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, rendering the law protecting tech companies from liability for content uploaded by their users , is weakened. Because the court decided that the tech companies were not liable for the actions of the Islamic State under the existing anti-terrorism law, it did not elaborate on reexamining Section 230 protections around these issues.

“I appreciate the Supreme Court’s thoughtful rulings that plaintiffs would not have won their cases even without Section 230,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, one of the authors of Section 230, said of the ruling. “As is the case with most lawsuits blocked on 230 grounds, the First Amendment or the inability to prove the underlying claims would lead to the same result.”

While the Supreme Court could review Section 230 further down the road, these two cases will not be the means to open that particular can of worms.

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