Two separate lawsuits against tech companies Google and Twitter both went in favor of the tech titans Thursday, as the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that neither were responsible for terrorist acts that were linked to content on their platforms.
We said that the fate of the internet was at stake in February when the Supreme Court decided they would hear a case challenging Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that effectively provides legal immunity to tech platforms for offensive content that individual users post. The case they took was from the family of a college student killed in a 2015 ISIS terrorist attack in Paris, whose family argued that YouTube’s algorithm allowed terrorist videos to reach a broader audience. But if the case had gone against Youtube and Google, websites would have been forced to scrape gigantic amounts of user-generated content from their sites, and could have faced waves of lawsuits and legal jeopardy.
The case did not go against Google. CNN reports that the Supreme Court sided with the tech company and upheld Section 230, and did so in a pair of unanimous votes.
“It might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms like defendants’ for illegal – and sometimes terrible – ends,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the unanimous decision. “But the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally.”
“We conclude,” he added, “that plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to establish that these defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack.”
There were two actually two cases here, one against Alphabet-owned Google and Youtube (Gonzalez v. Google), and another against Twitter (Twitter v. Taamneh). But both cases were about terrorist content that ISIS-affiliated actors had posted on those platforms, which plaintiffs in both cases sai that Twitter and Google bore some responsibility for subsequent terrorist attacks.
Several other tech companies lined up in support of Google, with Craigslist, Microsoft, and Yelp submitting their own friend-of-the-court filings saying that innocuous posts on their own platforms would be affected if Section 230 were overturned. Additionally, Reddit moderators argued that if the court went the other way, they could be held liable for posts on their own subreddits, an argument with which the justices sympathized.
“Countless companies, scholars, content creators and civil society organizations who joined with us in this case will be reassured by this result,” Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado said in a statement after the ruling. “We’ll continue our work to safeguard free expression online, combat harmful content, and support businesses and creators who benefit from the internet.”
Related: Supreme Court Showdown: Big Tech vs the Law, with the Fate of the Internet at Stake [SFist]
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