ARTICLE 19 welcomes today’s US Supreme Court decisions in two key cases, Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v Google, concerning liability of online platforms for terrorist content they host and recommend. The decisions represent a significant win not just for two platforms but also for free expression online.
The two cases heard earlier this year were both considered to have the potential to fundamentally shift the functioning of the modern internet. Both centered on the question whether or not social media companies can be held liable for terrorist content they host and recommend.
Commenting on the Supreme Court decisions, Barbora Bukovská, Senior Director for Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19, said:
“The Court recognised that finding Twitter liable for aiding and abetting terrorism would mean that platforms could be held liable for preventing any sort of wrongdoing on their platforms. A finding to the contrary would have fundamentally undermined the immunity from liability for user-generated content granted to intermediaries by Section 230.
“Section 230 is a fundamental pillar for protection of freedom of expression online. We are pleased that the Court did not “break the internet” as many feared. A ruling for the plaintiffs would have incentivised online platforms to remove vast amounts of content that is protected under international freedom of expression standards to shield themselves from liability.”
Both cases were initiated by families whose relatives were killed in ISIS attacks in Paris and Istanbul. In each case, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant platforms have aided and abetted ISIS and thus violated U.S. antiterrorism statutes.
In Taamneh, the question centered around whether a platform that provides a widely available service that is also used by terrorist entities for propaganda and recruitment can be liable for aiding and abetting international terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In Gonzalez, the Court was asked to determine whether Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act covers recommendation systems.
Section 230 grants legal immunity to online platforms for content posted by third parties and allows platforms to remove objectionable content without exposing themselves to liability. The provision has been fundamental in protecting free speech and fostering innovation online.
The Supreme Court’s decisions
In Taamneh, the Court sided with Twitter, unanimously ruling the plaintiffs failed ‘to allege that defendants intentionally provided any substantial aid to the Reina (the nightclub in Istanbul) attack or otherwise consciously participated in the Reina attack’.
In Gonzalez, the Supreme Court declined to address the issue of Section 230 because it had decided in Taamneh that there was no liability under anti-terrorism law under a similar set of facts.
ARTICLE 19 and the International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine School of Law filed an amicus brief in Gonzalez v. Google. In the proceedings, we were represented by Bob Latham (the Chair of the Board of ARTICLE 19), Marc Fuller and Hannah Walsh of Jackson Walker LLP.