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Google Supreme Court: Court sides with Twitter, Google in high-stakes social media and terrorism cases

On Thursday, a unanimous Supreme Court sided with Google and Twitter in two cases alleging social media responsibility for overseas terrorist attacks.

Judge Clarence Thomas, in an opinion for the Twitter case, said the families of the victims of a 2017 Islamic State attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey, have not sufficiently demonstrated that the online platforms had “aiding and abetting” terrorists in violation of federal law. .

“The plaintiffs did not allege that the defendants intentionally provided substantial assistance in attacking Reina or knowingly participated in the attack on Reina – let alone that the defendants aided ISIS in such a pervasive and pervasive way. systemic that they blamed them for every ISIS attack,” Thomas wrote. .

The Reina nightclub near the Bosphorus after a mass shooting on New Year’s Eve on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Getty Images, FILE

The court adopted similar reasoning in an opinion unsigned by Curiam in the Google case, which was brought by the family of the only American killed in the 2015 Paris terror attacks, carried out by Islamic State extremists who had posted documents on Google’s YouTube video platform.

The families of the victims in both cases alleged that the social media companies were indirectly complicit in the attacks by failing to remove extremist content from their platforms, which may have contributed to the radicalization and recruitment of terrorists.

The federal terrorism law allows civil suits against anyone who “aids and abets by knowingly providing substantial assistance” to a terrorist in the commission of an act of violence.

But Judge Thomas, in a narrowly tailored decision, said the standard had not been met.

“The fact that certain bad actors took advantage of these platforms is insufficient to assert that the defendants knowingly provided substantial assistance and thereby aided and abetted the acts of these evildoers,” he wrote.

The family of Noehmi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old Californian student murdered in the Paris attack, also asked the court to strike down the legal immunity enjoyed by internet companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties. users, such as messages, images and videos. But the court declined to address the scope of this landmark law, avoiding the issue.

Google Supreme Court: Court sides with Twitter, Google in high-stakes social media and terrorism cases

Beatriz Gonzalez, right, the mother of 23-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez, a student killed in the Paris terrorist attacks, speaks before the Supreme Court, February 21, 2023, in Washington.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The rulings are a substantial victory for online companies who had warned that expanding the scope of liability would disrupt the internet as we know it.

“No digital service wants its products to be used by bad actors, but trying to use accountability here is actually going to produce the opposite result,” Matthew Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, told ABC News. earlier this year.

When contacted by ABC News, members of the Gonzalez family declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

Google Supreme Court: Court sides with Twitter, Google in high-stakes social media and terrorism cases

A police officer cordons off the area after a knife attack in central Paris on May 12, 2018.

Thibault Camus/AP

Judge Thomas acknowledges that there could be situations in which a social media company could be held responsible for a role in an act of terrorism, but he said the alleged assistance should be “more direct, active and substantial than simply providing group space for most posts and videos, as alleged in these cases.

Some consumer advocates and tech reformers had hoped the Court would help reign in the power and influence of social media companies, but that task is now more clearly in the hands of Congress.

“There is a political question here about how we can continue to allow these social media companies to operate. We don’t want them crippled by lawsuits, but we also need to crack down on some of the ways that groups terrorists can make it easier to recruit them,” Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent, attorney and former Yale Law School Dean, told ABC News Live. “These companies are designed to make money from advertising revenue. , and they earn ad revenue by keeping people on their platforms and assets. I think we need to change the incentives here to change the landscape.”


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