On Thursday, May 18, the Supreme Court unanimously shielded both Google and Twitter in cases alleging social media liability in regards to terrorist attacks in France and Turkey. The pair of decisions protect the widely used social media companies from potential lawsuits regarding terror-related content. The decisions reflect the Court’s stance in not expanding the scope of liability online.
Federal anti-terrorism law allows civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids and abets by knowingly providing substantial assistance” to a terrorist in executing acts of violence.
In both cases, family members of the victims argued that the tech giants were complicit in the attacks by their failure to remove terror-related content from their sites through their content moderation algorithms and software. They also alleged that the content served as a recruitment tactic for radicals.
However, the Court ruled that the legal standard has not been met in either case involving Google and Twitter.
In an opinion for Twitter v. Taamneh, Justice Clarence Thomas said that families of victims of a 2017 attack by ISIS in Istanbul could not effectively demonstrate that social media had “aided and abetted” the extremists in violation of federal law. “It might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms…for illegal – and sometimes terrible – ends. But the same could be said of all cell phones, email, or the internet generally.”
The Court followed suit in an opinion for the Google case, which was brought by a family of an American killed in a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris.
Notably, the Court declined to address the application of Section 230, which many refer to as a blanket immunity from liability for social platforms. The Court’s silence offers little insight on how to best measure a corporation’s approach when moderating its online social platform and spaces.
This ruling comes as a relief to Google, Twitter and others in the tech space that continue to urge the Supreme Court not to apply legal limitations to the internet.
To download the full Twitter case opinion, click here.
Mark S. Fusco is a partner and the Chair of the Walter Haverfield Litigation Group. He can be reached at email@example.com or 216-619-7839.
Anthony R. Santiago is an associate at Walter Haverfield who focuses his practice on commercial litigation matters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-658-6219.