Challenge to tech companies’ immunity among new cases to be heard by Supreme Court

by WorldTribune Staff, October 4, 2022

Among the nine new cases added to the Supreme Court’s docket on Monday is a challenge to immunity from lawsuits that Big Tech companies enjoy.

U.S. Supreme Court / Wikimedia Commons

In the case of Gonzalez v. Google, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an important question regarding the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally shields Internet platforms from liability for content published by others. Congress passed the law in 1996.

Justice Clarence Thomas suggested two years ago that the top court should consider “whether the text of this increasingly important statute aligns with the current state of immunity enjoyed by Internet platforms.”

Supreme Court blogger Amy Howe noted on Monday: “The question now before the court is whether Section 230 protects Internet platforms when their algorithms target users and recommend someone else’s content.”

Gonzalez v. Google was filed by the family of an American woman killed in a Paris bistro in an ISIS attack in 2015. The family brought the lawsuit under the Antiterrorism Act, arguing that Google (which owns YouTube) aided ISIS’s recruitment through YouTube videos – specifically, recommending ISIS videos to users through its algorithms.

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Section 230 protects such recommendations, at least if the provider’s algorithm treated content on its website similarly. The majority acknowledged that Section 230 “shelters more activity than Congress envisioned it would” but concluded that Congress – not the courts – should clarify how broadly Section 230 applies.

The justices also agreed to take up a petition for review filed by Twitter, in a lawsuit filed against it by the family of a Jordanian citizen killed in an ISIS attack on a nightclub in Istanbul. In the same opinion as its ruling in Gonzalez, the 9th Circuit held that Twitter, Facebook, and Google could be held liable, regardless of Section 230, for aiding and abetting international terrorism by allowing ISIS to use their platforms.

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