US Supreme Court considers whether internet service providers are liable for terrorism-related content News
US Supreme Court considers whether internet service providers are liable for terrorism-related content

The US Supreme Court Wednesday heard oral arguments in Twitter v. Taamneh and considered whether internet service providers are liable under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act when users post terrorism-related content. The Court took up the case in conjunction with a similar case, Gonzalez v. Google, which explored whether large technology companies are liable if their algorithm recommends ISIS recruitment videos.

The case arises out of an attack at a night club in Istanbul, Turkey. ISIS took responsibility for the attack that killed 39 people and injured 69 more. The family of Nawras Alassaf, one of the deceased, brought suit against Facebook, Twitter and Google. They claimed the technology giants knew of ISIS’s use of the platforms to recruit members and spread propaganda. The plaintiffs also alleged that the companies had the ability to flag, report and remove terrorist accounts but failed to do so.

The district court dismissed the case for failing to show that the tech companies acted to further specific terrorist plans. In the court’s view, showing that the companies generally were aware that ISIS used their platforms was not sufficient to prove they violated antiterrorism laws. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that general awareness was sufficient for liability. The court pointed out that Congress, Washington Post, the New York Times and private organizations had warned the companies that they were assisting ISIS. Despite these warnings, the companies never made efforts to review the terrorists’ accounts.

During arguments, counsel for Twitter stated that the company did not provide knowing, substantial assistance to ISIS, and a general knowledge does not equal aiding and abetting. In Twitter’s view, Congress could have made general knowledge a crime, but it specified that there must be specific “acts” in the statute. Justice Gorsuch pointed out that Twitter’s counsel had a “pretty abstract way” of interpreting the act. He said that the statute prohibits the aiding and abetting of a person. But Twitter argued that a party must aid and abet a specific act to be guilty. Thus, according to Twitter, it is not enough that the Tech companies aid ISIS in providing a platform, and they also have to aid ISIS in each specific attack or bombing to be held liable.

Judge Clarence Thomas noted that he would be liable for aiding and abetting a crime if he had a friend that was a mugger, a murder and a burglar and gave him a gun not knowing what the friend would do with it. Counsel for Twitter responded by explaining that the aiding party must have an awareness that the party is assisting in illegal activity to be liable.