The Supreme Court granted immunity to the Internet company in the YouTube dispute

Nohemi Gonzalez’ mother Beatriz Gonzalez and stepfather Jose Hernandez talk about memories of Nohemi during a service to mark the anniversary of her death Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Long Beach, Calif. .

Scott Varley | Orange County Register | Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday stepped into the politically divisive issue of whether tech companies have immunity for problematic content posted by users, agreeing to hear a case alleging YouTube aided and abetted the killing of an American woman in the 2015 Islamic State terror attacks. in Paris.

The family of Nohemi Gonzalez, one of 130 people killed in a series of linked attacks by a militant Muslim group, argued that YouTube’s active role in recommending videos exceeded the liability shield for internet companies enacted by Congress in the 1996 Communications Amendment. The Law of Etiquette.

According to Article 230 of the law, internet companies are not responsible for content posted by users. In recent years, it has been heavily scrutinized from the right and left, with conservatives claiming the companies inappropriately censor content and liberals claiming social media companies spread dangerous right-wing rhetoric. The provision leaves it up to companies to decide whether to remove certain content and does not require them to be politically neutral.

Women set up a photo of Paris terror attack victim Nohemi Gonzalez for a funeral service at Calvary Chapel on December 4, 2015 in Downey, California. Gonzalez was a 23-year-old Cal State Long Beach student who was killed last month while dining with friends at a Paris bistro.

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Gonzalez was a 23-year-old college student studying in France who was killed while eating at a restaurant during the attacks, which also targeted the Bataclan concert hall.

His family wants to sue Google-owned YouTube for allegedly allowing ISIS to spread its message. The lawsuit targets YouTube’s use of algorithms to recommend videos to users based on content they’ve previously watched. The family’s lawyers argue that YouTube’s active role goes beyond the type of conduct Congress intended Section 230 to protect. They say in court documents that the company knowingly allowed ISIS to “post hundreds of radical videos on YouTube that incite violence,” helping the group attract supporters, some of whom later carried out terrorist attacks. YouTube video recommendations have played a key role in spreading ISIS’s message, according to lawyers. Prosecutors do not allege that YouTube had a direct role in the murder.

Gonzalez’s relatives, who filed a lawsuit in federal court in northern California in 2016, hope to pursue claims that YouTube violated a federal law called the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows them to sue individuals or entities that “aid and abet” terrorist acts. A federal judge dismissed the suit, but it was reinstated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in a June 2021 ruling that also settled similar cases brought by families of other terror attack victims against tech companies.

Google’s attorneys urged the court not to hear the Gonzalez case, saying in part that the lawsuit would not have taken place regardless of whether Section 230 applied.

The Supreme Court has previously declined to hear cases involving Section 230, although conservative Justice Clarence Thomas criticized it, citing market power and the influence of tech giants.

Another related issue is likely to be a Supreme Court appeal over a law passed by Republicans in Texas that seeks to prevent social media companies from banning users who make inflammatory political comments. On September 16, a federal appeals court upheld a law that blocked the Supreme Court’s take effect in May.

In a separate move, the court also said it would hear Twitter’s plea on whether the company could be held liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The same appellate court hearing the Gonzalez case brought up again the claims made by the relatives of Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf, who was killed in an attack by Islamists in Istanbul in 2017. The relatives accused Twitter, Google and Facebook of aiding and abetting the spread of militant Islamic ideology. In this case, the issue of Article 230 immunity was not yet resolved.

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