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The Supreme Court will determine whether you can sue platforms for hosting terrorists

The Supreme Court will determine whether you can sue platforms for hosting terrorists


Two cases will determine how far sites’ liability protections stretch

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Supreme Court will take up two cases testing legal protections for apps and websites, according to a newly released list of orders. The first case is Gonzalez v. Google, a dispute over whether sites’ recommendation systems are covered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The second is Twitter v. Taamneh, which covers the standard for finding a site illegally supporting terrorists.

The cases will offer the Supreme Court a chance to dramatically reshape the online legal landscape — not only for huge companies like Twitter and Google but also smaller web services that are protected by laws like Section 230. They may soon be joined by a case covering sites’ right to moderate objectionable user posts. Petitioners will argue in front of a court that’s shown increasing enthusiasm for paring back online legal shields, particularly Section 230.

One case could decide the scope of Section 230

Gonzalez v. Google involves one of numerous attempts to sue Meta, Google, Twitter, and other companies for failing to ban members of sanctioned terrorist groups. The plaintiffs claim Google’s YouTube platform “knowingly permitted” Islamic State propaganda and recruitment videos and spread them through its recommendation system, violating laws against materially supporting terrorism. (The suit was filed by relatives of Nohemi Gonzalez, a woman killed in a 2015 ISIS attack.) But an appeals court concluded that Google’s conduct was protected by Section 230 since the recommendations involved user-generated content.

Twitter v. Taamneh is a similar terrorism-related case decided in the same appeals court decision as Gonzalez. But unlike that case, the court kept Taamneh alive, declining to analyze whether Section 230 should apply to the situation. It found that, absent that protection, sites could potentially violate the Anti-Terrorism Act if they formally banned but didn’t adequately scrub terrorist content. Twitter wants to establish a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, particularly if the Supreme Court overturns the decision in Gonzalez.

The Supreme Court declined to settle questions about sites’ liability for terrorist content in 2020. Now, it’s reversed course in a way that might have major repercussions — determining whether the web’s ubiquitous recommendation features are protected by a highly contentious law.