IP Tech Knowledgy

Background hero atmospheric image for SCOTUS Saves the Internet

SCOTUS Saves the Internet

The Supreme Court has saved the Internet. In two unanimous opinions issued today, the Justices determined that the mere use of a social media platform by bad actors does not make the platforms liable for the bad acts. There was no “aiding and abetting” under the federal statues in question. Social medial platforms can continue operating as they have, but should be careful to be “agnostic” and not take special actions to help bad actors.

In Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh, the Court determined that none of the platforms in question “culpably associated themselves with the [bad act,] participated in it as something that they wished to bring about, or sought by their action to make it succeed.” The Court found that the platforms were helping the cause of the bad actors because “the algorithms appear agnostic as to the nature of the content.”  As to the claim that the platforms should have stopped the use of the sites when the platforms knew of the bad acts, the Court stated that the claim asserted no duty to “terminate customers after discovering that the customers were using the service for illicit ends.” And if there were a duty, “it would not transform defendants’ distant inaction into knowing and substantial assistance that could establish aiding and abetting.”

The Gonzalez v. Google decision was a much shorter “Per Curiam” opinion that relied on the Twitter decision. However, Gonzalez is important in that it let stand a lower court decision that upheld many protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which immunizes interactive computer services when their algorithms make targeted recommendations of information provided by another. To have questioned the validity of Section 230 would have created significant liability for platforms based on what their users state or do.

In Twitter, 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.

In Gonzalez, the claim was that Google’s algorithm kept feeding terrorists more information that led to a deadly attack.  

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