The US Supreme Court has sided with Google, Twitter, and Facebook in lawsuits that sought to hold them liable for terrorist actions made possible by their platforms, which is a significant legal move. The federal rule that protects social media sites from being sued for user-posted content, however, is the bigger controversy surrounding these cases, and the court has opted to ignore it.
A lawsuit claiming that the firms let their platforms be used in an attack at a Turkish nightclub in 2017 that resulted in the deaths of 39 people was dismissed by the justices on a unanimous basis.
In another instance, a college student from the United States lost her life in a terrorist assault carried out by the Islamic State in Paris in 2015. The court unanimously decided to refer the case back to a lower court, indicating that not much of the original case was still relevant.
The Supreme Court initially took up the Google issue to see whether Section 230 of the 1996 law's legal protections for social media corporations was unduly broad. The court determined that, given the tenuous link between Google and the Paris attacks, it was not necessary to examine this issue.
The court stated in an unsigned opinion, "We therefore decline to address the application of Section 230 to a complaint that appears to state little, if any, plausible claim for relief."
The tech sector, which had warned of potential internet upheaval if Google had lost the case, celebrates this result, at least for the time being. However, the Supreme Court is still free to bring up this matter in a later case.
Anna Diakun, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, highlighted the significance of unanswered questions related to the extent of platforms' immunity under Section 230. She stated, "The Court will eventually have to answer some important questions that it avoided in today's opinions. Questions about the scope of platforms' immunity under Section 230 are consequential and will certainly come up soon in other cases."
Google's general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado reaffirmed the company's dedication to defending online free speech, battling harmful content, and assisting companies and creators who profit from the internet.
The relatives of the victims in both attacks said that the internet behemoths did not do enough to stop extremist organisations from using their platforms to radicalise and recruit others. They filed claims for compensation in federal court in accordance with a federal law that enables Americans injured in terrorist acts abroad to do so.
The companies, according to the family of a victim of the Reina nightclub explosion in Istanbul, allegedly helped the Islamic State organisation, which took credit for the attack, expand. The court's opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that the family's allegations did not credibly demonstrate that the defendants encouraged or enabled the Reina attack.
Similar accusations were made against Google by Gonzalez's family in the Paris attack case for her murder in a Parisian café, which was also claimed by the Islamic State. Given that Google owns YouTube, they intended to sue the company over videos they said were responsible for drawing in and radicalising IS recruits.