US Supreme Court rules for Google, Twitter in closely watched cases

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MAY 18, 2023

The Supreme Court ruled for Google and Twitter in a pair of closely watched liability cases Thursday, saying families of terrorism victims had not shown the companies “aided and abetted” attacks on their loved ones.

“Plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to establish that these defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a unanimous decision in the Twitter case. The court adopted similar reasoning in the claim against Google.

The court’s narrowly focused rulings sidestepped requests to limit a law that protects social media platforms from lawsuits over content posted by their users, even if the platform’s algorithms promote videos that laud terrorist groups.

In the Twitter case, American relatives of Nawras Alassaf said the company failed to properly police its platform for Islamic State-related accounts in advance of a Jan. 1, 2017, attack at the Reina nightclub in Turkey that killed Alassaf and 38 others. In the Google case, the family of an exchange student killed in an Islamic State attack in Paris said Google’s YouTube should be liable for promoting content from the group.

The relatives in both cases based their lawsuits on the Anti-Terrorism Act, which imposes civil liability for assisting a terrorist attack. At issue was whether the company provided substantial assistance to the terrorist group.

But Thomas, writing in the Twitter case, said the link was too attenuated.

“As alleged by plaintiffs, defendants designed virtual platforms and knowingly failed to do ‘enough’ to remove ISIS-affiliated users and ISIS related content — out of hundreds of millions of users worldwide and an immense ocean of content — from their platforms,” he wrote. “Yet, plaintiffs have failed to allege that defendants intentionally provided any substantial aid to the Reina attack or otherwise consciously participated in the Reina attack — much less that defendants so pervasively and systemically assisted ISIS as to render them liable for every ISIS attack.”

The Google case specifically raised the issue of Section 230, a decades-old legal provision that courts have found shields social media giants from liability over the posts, photos and videos that people share on their services.

But the short, unsigned decision said the justices “decline to address the application of Section 230 to a complaint that appears to state little, if any, plausible claim for relief.”

The cases are Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google.

This is a developing story.


Courtesy/Source: Washington Post