Supreme Court rules for Google and Twitter on terrorism-related content (2023)

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The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the families of victims of terrorism failed to prove that Google, Twitter and Facebook helped to promote attacks against their loved ones and handed the tech industry a bigger victory by refusing to consider a law. of Internet protection at the center of the debate on the regulation of social networks.

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The families "never allege that after the defendants established their platforms, they gave ISIS any special treatment or words of encouragement," Judge Clarence Thomas said.wrote to a unanimous court. “There is also no reason to think that the defendants selected or took any action regarding the ISIS content (except perhaps blocking some of it).”

The case involved accusations against Twitter, Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube. The courtadopted similar reasoningin a separate lawsuit against Google filed by a different family.


The narrow focus rulings dodged calls to limit Section 230, a legal provision that protects social media platforms from lawsuits over offensive, harmful or violent content posted by their users, regardless of whether companies encourage or promote those posts. O statute emerged as a lightning rod in the politically polarized debate over the future of online discourse.

Tech companies and their surrogates cheered the decision, which followed extensive lobbying and advocacy campaigns to defend Section 230 in Washington. Changes to the law, they said, could open a floodgate of litigation that would squelch innovation and have far-reaching effects on the technology underlying nearly every interaction people have online, from innocuous suggestions for songs on Spotify to instructions for watching videos about Conspiracy theories. on Youtube.

The complaint against Google focused specifically on whether Section 230 protects recommendation algorithms. Nohemi Gonzalez's family has argued that Google-owned YouTube was responsible for the 23-year-old Paris exchange student's death at the hands of ISIS gunmen because the technology platform acted as a recruitment platform for the terrorist group. .

"The countless companies, academics, content creators and civil society organizations that have joined us on this case will be reassured by this outcome," Halimah DeLaine Prado, general counsel for Google, said in a statement. "We will continue our work to protect free expression online, fight harmful content, and support businesses and creators who benefit from the Internet."

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Supreme Court Decisions 2023

Supreme Court rules for Google and Twitter on terrorism-related content (1)Supreme Court rules for Google and Twitter on terrorism-related content (2)

Over the next two months, the Supreme Court will announce decisions on all the cases it has heard this term.We are following the main decisions hereand why they are important.

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NoTwitter in GoodbyeIn the case, American relatives of Nawras Alassaf said the company failed to properly police its platform for Islamic State-related accounts ahead of a Jan. 1, 2017 attack on the Reina nightclub in Turkey that killed Alassaf and 38 others.

Relatives in bothTaamnehegonzálezcases based their processes on the Anti-Terrorism Act, which imposes civil liability for aiding a terrorist attack. The issue was whether the company provided substantial assistance to the terrorist group.


But Thomas, writing on Twitter's case, said the link was too attenuated.

“As alleged by the plaintiffs, the defendants designed virtual platforms and knowingly failed to 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,” he wrote. “However, the plaintiffs failed to allege that the defendants intentionally provided any substantial assistance to the Reina attack or knowingly participated in the Reina attack – let alone that the defendants aided ISIS in such a pervasive and systemic way as to render them liable. for all ISIS attacks.”

Thomas also made it clear that the algorithms to target those looking for ISIS content are not evidence of complicity by media companies.

"As presented here, the algorithms appear to be agnostic to the nature of the content, matching any content (including ISIS content) to any user most likely to view that content," wrote Thomas. "The fact that these algorithms match some ISIS content with some users does not convert the passive assistance of the defendants into active complicity."


The Supreme Court action reversed a federal appeals court decision that had allowed theTaamnehsuit go forward. A lawyer for the Gonzalez family said he would consider a suggestion in the opinion that the lawsuit could be changed to try to enforce the decision.

Section 230 was denounced by politicians from both parties. Congressional lawmakers have spent years debating whether the 1996 law needs updating to address their fears about social media. But most bills that would have made far-reaching changes have languished amid partisan divisions.

Analysis: Supreme Court gives tech companies a win -- and not just in Section 230

Democrats, wary of the ways in which social media has been rigged to spread falsehoods aboutelectionsand public health, want to change the provision to ensure technology companies take more responsibility for harmful and offensive content on their websites. Republicans are concerned that Section 230 will protect companies from lawsuits over content removal decisions or account suspensions, especially as companies have taken the historic step of suspending President Donald Trump and the individuals involved in theJanuary 6th, 2021, attacks on the US Capitol. (Meta, YouTube and Twitter have reinstated the former president's account in recent months.)


it was clearin oral allegations that the judges were reluctantto make significant changes to the law. “We are a court,” Judge Elena Kagansaid at the time, adding that she and her colleagues are "not like the top nine experts on the internet."

Free speech advocates argued that if the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, social media companies would have to suppress constitutionally protected speech, adopting blunt content moderation tools that would restrict discussion on critical topics. They pointed to mistakes tech companies already make in enforcing existing rules, citing a 2021 incident where Instagram mistakenly removed content about a mosque because its systems confused that content with a designation the company uses for terrorist organizations.

"With this decision, free speech online lives to fight another day," Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said in a statement.

The court's decision not to challenge Section 230 could increase pressure on elected officials to update the law.


“The battle will now shift to Congress … which can no longer hide on the sidelines,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner,a lawyer for the Gonzalez family. She called on lawmakers to "amend this antiquated statute."

Senador John Cornyn (R-Tex.) agreed that the decisions put the onus back on legislators.

“One reason [the judges refused to accept] could be that they want Congress to do our job,” he said. "It's a complex issue, and I hope we can address them."

Both Trump and President Biden have criticized Section 230, at times calling for its repeal. Momentum to change the law increased after the January 6 attack, when newly sworn-in Democrats in the Biden administration and Congress pledged to review the legislation. But despite a flurry of congressional hearings and bills, Section 230 has remained unchanged since 2018, when Trumpsigned a lawthat allowed victims and state attorneys general to sue sites that host sex trafficking ads.


Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-wrote Section 230 as a member of the House nearly three decades ago and filed a petition in its defense to the Supreme Court, said he appreciated the "considered decisions that even without Section 230 , the plaintiffs would not have prevailed in their actions.”

"Despite being unfairly maligned by political and corporate interests that have turned it into a punching bag for everything wrong with the internet, the law ... remains vitally important to enabling users to speak online," Wyden said in a statement.

Tech industry-funded groups also praised the decisions. The Chamber of Progress, which receives funding from Meta, Google and other companies and has filed a paper supporting Google in the Gonzalez case, called the ruling in that case an "unequivocal victory for online speech and content moderation."


"While the Court may have had an appetite for reinterpreting decades of Internet law, it was clear from oral arguments that changing the interpretation of Section 230 would create more problems than it would solve," Jess Miers, attorney for the group, said in a statement. .

Even some legal experts who filed documents in support of the Gonzalez family said they were satisfied with the Supreme Court's opinion. Mary Anne Franks, president of the Cyber ​​Civil Rights Initiative, asked the court to interpret Section 230 more narrowly, saying that lower courts had wrongly concluded that it should provide “unconditional immunity from liability, no matter how passive [the tech companies] stay the same in the face of easily avoidable and clearly foreseeable harm.”

Thursday's opinion on Twitter, she said, shows that such disputes can be decided in the normal course of law, taking “the wind from the sails” to industry arguments that companies need a dedicated shield to protect them from “bad” lawsuits.

The Coalition for a Safer Web, a nonprofit group that advocates for policies to remove extreme content from social media and supported Gonzalez's attorney in the case, said the ruling "rewards Big Tech for misconduct." The group expressed skepticism that Congress would change Section 230, noting that major tech companies spend millions of dollars a year on lobbying.

"Champagne corks are popping today in Silicon Valley," the nonprofit said in a press release.

the cases areTwitter in GoodbyeeGonzález v. Google.

Cristiano Lima in Washington and Gerrit De Vynck in San Francisco contributed to this report.

2023 Supreme Court Decisions


  • Following Supreme Court decisions in key cases this term May 18, 2023Following Supreme Court decisions in key cases this term May 18, 2023
  • Supreme Court gives tech companies a victory, and not just over Section 230 May 18, 2023Supreme Court gives tech companies a victory, and not just over Section 230 May 18, 2023
  • Supreme Court rules for Google and Twitter on terrorism-related content May 18, 2023Supreme Court rules for Google and Twitter on terrorism-related content May 18, 2023


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