In two major decisions before the Supreme Court, the court ruled in favor of Big Tech companies against efforts to hold them accountable for third-party content on their platforms.
As Breitbart reports, the two cases in question were Twitter Inc. v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google. Both cases regarded pro-terrorist content on the respective platforms, which the plaintiffs each claimed directly contributed to the loss of family members in mass terrorist attacks.
In the Taamneh case, the family of Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf sued Twitter over his death in an ISIS attack in Istanbul in 2017. The family alleged that, since ISIS was allowed to post recruiting content freely on Twitter, the tech platform was guilty of aiding and abetting ISIS, thus contributing to the attack. Arguments in the case were made before the court in February.
However, in the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court unanimously determined that the standard for “aiding and abetting” in a crime is “consciously and culpably” participating in the act itself, which Twitter did not do.
“If aiding-and-abetting liability were taken too far, then ordinary merchants could become liable for any misuse of their goods and services, no matter how attenuated their relationship with the wrongdoer,” Thomas wrote. “When there is a direct nexus between the defendant’s acts and the tort, courts may more easily infer such culpable assistance.”
Around the same time as the Taamneh arguments, the court also heard the Gonzalez case, filed by the family of 23-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in the ISIS attack on Paris in November of 2015. The plaintiffs requested that the court re-examine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that protects tech companies from legal liability for content posted on their platforms. In this case as well, the plaintiffs claimed that Google, the parent company which owns the video-sharing website YouTube, was culpable for the Paris attacks due to hosting ISIS recruitment videos and other pro-ISIS content.
As a result of the Taamneh ruling, the Supreme Court was able to avoid making a clear decision in the Gonzalez case, instead issuing a unanimous per curiam decision which sent the Gonzalez case back to the lower courts, with a recommendation that lower courts consider the implications of the Taamneh ruling when re-evaluating Gonzalez.
“The allegations underlying their secondary-liability claims are materially identical to those at issue in Twitter,” the court wrote. “Since we hold that the complaint in that case fails to state a claim for aiding and abetting…it appears to follow that the complaint here likewise fails to state such a claim.”
“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 declared.