Social Media

Supreme Court to Decide if Google is Liable in Case That Alleges Platforms Were Used to Plan Deadly Terrorist Attack

NBC Universal, Inc.

It is a case that could change social media as we know it and one that could shape the future of online speech.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether YouTube and its owner, Google, can be held responsible for a terrorist attack that killed an American student because they hosted ISIS videos on their platform.

In November 2015, when terrorists launched a coordinated series of attacks on the Bataclan and other sites in Paris, 23-year-old Cal State student Nohemi Gonzales was one of 130 people killed.

Her parents sued YouTube and Google, claiming that the algorithms the tech companies used to organize and prioritize their videos helped terror groups recruit members.

“If not for social media, chances are ISIS would be 50 men chanting around a fire in the desert, but because of social media, it gives them unlimited access to the world stage,” said family attorney Keith Altman.

On Tuesday morning, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Gonzales vs. Google, a case that will test the limits of Section 230 of the Communications Decency act of 1996.  A rule that some argue allows internet companies to function.

“Section 230 of the community decency act immunizes companies such as Facebook and Twitter and Google from merely publishing information from third parties,” said Professor Harold Krent of IIT’s Chicago-Kent College of law.

The question, Krent said, is whether Google is acting as a publisher when it uses an algorithm to suggest what third-party videos you might want to watch.

If the Supreme Court decides to narrow the protections offered by section 230, it will not only affect big players like Google, but smaller players as well, such as Reddit moderators and Wikipedia editors.

In three hours of arguments this morning, the justices admitted their limited knowledge of internet technology and seemed skeptical of the claims against Google.

“I think in this case, the Court seems entirely united in terms of ruling in favor of Google and against the challenger in order to uphold the internet and its way of doing business,” Krent said.

The Internet Association estimates that the internet accounts for $2.3 trillion dollars of the US gross Domestic Product or about 10% of the US economy.

Krent, who has argued before the Supreme Court, suggested that  the justices may leave the question of internet protections for Congress to decide.

“Why shouldn’t we allow Congress to step in, if indeed Congress wants to limit 230 immunity,” Krent said.

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