IP Tech Knowledgy

Background hero atmospheric image for SCOTUS May Not Break the Internet, Yet

SCOTUS May Not Break the Internet, Yet

The Supreme Court may not be ready to readjust the internet just yet. In two cases this week, the Court heard oral arguments about whether Google and Twitter were liable when their actions ultimately promoted terrorist activities. Based on the questioning from the Bench, it seems the Justices might not upend statutes that currently shield online platforms from liability for the wrongful acts of their users.    

In Gonzalez v. Google the question presented was whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) immunizes interactive computer services when their algorithms make targeted recommendations of information provided by another. The claim is that Google’s algorithm kept feeding terrorists more information that led to a deadly attack.  Section 230 was enacted over 25 years ago and assured that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Since then, courts have interpreted the language broadly and provided a safe harbor for web companies and individuals to transmit much of what others say.  In their questions this week most of the Justices seemed hesitant to remove the shield that Section 230 provides, because it may create an unexpected liability for anyone who recommended a different site for any reason.

In Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh, the questions presented were whether an internet platform “knowingly” provides substantial assistance under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, merely because it allegedly could have taken more “meaningful” or “aggressive” action to prevent such use and whether the internet platform whose services were not used in connection with the specific “act of international terrorism” that injured the plaintiff can still be liable for aiding and abetting under the Antiterrorism Act. Twitter argued that connection between the posts its platform and terrorist activity we too attenuated to create liability. The Justices spent a long time questioning the parties to determine if facilitating the posting on an online platform constituted “aiding and abetting.” More Justices seemed to agree with Twitter that it was difficult to find the close enough connection to create liability. Section 230 is a tangential part of this case and would be relevant only if the Court first found that Twitter was liable under the Antiterrorism Act.

The Court will likely issue its decisions in late June of 2023, close to the end of the current term.

Ned T. Himmelrich
410-576-4171 • nhimmelrich@gfrlaw.com