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Tech keeps liability shield in Supreme Court win

The justices were considering two lawsuits in which families of terrorist attack victims said Google and Twitter should be held liable for aiding and abetting ISIS, leading to their relatives’ deaths.


Google asserted that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, enacted in 1996 to prevent internet companies from being held liable for content posted by third parties, protected the company from all of the claims.


But rather than wading into the weighty Section 230 dispute — which internet companies say allows them to serve users and offers protection from a deluge of litigation — the court Thursday found neither company had any underlying liability to need the protections.


In the Twitter case, conservative 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.”


That dispute arose after an ISIS-linked attacker killed Nawras Alassaf and 38 other people at an Istanbul nightclub in 2017. Alassaf’s family sued Twitter and other tech platforms, accusing them of not taking enough enforcement action against the terrorist group.


The Google case presented similar facts. The family of U.S. citizen Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed during a 2015 ISIS attack in Paris, sued Google for its purported recommendations of pro-ISIS videos on YouTube.


“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,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion in the Google case.


The decision is being cheered as a win for protecting speech online by the tech industry but is already facing pushback from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle looking to reform Section 230. 


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