This morning, SCOTUS has ruled no liability for Google and Twitter in their respective cases, failing to address Section 230 protection.
The two Supreme Court cases (profiled by us here) addressed whether recommender systems are covered by liability exemptions under Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code that was enacted as part of the United States Communications Decency Act and generally provides immunity for website platforms with respect to third-party content.
The justices were considering two lawsuits against Google and Twitter, both brought by families of terrorist attack victims, who said the companies should be held liable for their relatives’ deaths by aiding-and-abetting ISIS.
However, as discussed by The Hill, rather than wading into the weighty Section 230 dispute, which internet companies say allows them to serve users and protect them from a deluge of litigation, the court on Thursday found neither company had any underlying liability to need the protections.
In the Twitter case, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a unanimous court that the plaintiffs’ allegations fell “far short of plausibly alleging that defendants aided and abetted the Reina attack.”
CNN reports a couple of additional quotes from the Twitter opinion, where Thomas stressed that the plaintiffs have “failed to allege that defendants intentionally provided any substantial aid” to the attack at issue, nor did they “pervasively and systemically” assist ISIS in a way that would render them liable for “every ISIS attack.”
In carrying terrorist speech, social media platforms are little different from other digital technologies, the opinion said.
“It might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms like defendants’ for illegal – and sometimes terrible – ends,” Thomas wrote. “But the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally.”
In the Google case, the court wrote in an unsigned opinion: “Rather, we think it sufficient to acknowledge that much (if not all) of plaintiffs’ complaint seems to fail under either our decision in Twitter or the Ninth Circuit’s unchallenged holdings below. We therefore decline to address the application of §230 to a complaint that appears to state little, if any, plausible claim for relief”.
So, what do you think? Are you surprised that SCOTUS has ruled no liability for Google and Twitter – without relying on Section 230 to do so? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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