The US Supreme Court issued a decision favoring Twitter, Facebook, and Google by ruling that victims of terrorist attacks cannot hold the social networks liable for posting messages of support for the Islamic State (IS) group. These cases, involving Google’s YouTube and Twitter, were seen as potential challenges to the legal protections the tech companies have enjoyed for decades.
However, the court avoided wading into the debate, noting that these cases were not appropriate to address Section 230, a statutory provision that grants legal immunity to Internet platforms from third-party-generated content. The judges indicated that the platforms were outside the scope of the law because they had not “aided and abetted” IS terror attacks by hosting postings in support of the extremist group.
Section 230, enacted in 1996, has been credited with allowing the unrestricted expansion of the Internet but is increasingly believed to contribute to the negative effects of social networking. Without this protection, websites could face lawsuits for content posted by users, leading to stricter moderation of spontaneous discussions on social networks.
Although the US Congress has not updated the rules due to divisions of opinion, many states are enacting their own laws to make platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok more accountable for content.
The Supreme Court sidestepped the debate by stating that the allegations against YouTube and Twitter did not amount to infringement, and therefore the discussion of Section 230 was not relevant. They provided no indication as to how they might address the immunity issue in the future.
Google welcomed the outcome and stressed that countless companies and organizations will be relieved. An association representing US technology companies said the decision was good news and preserved online free speech and a thriving digital economy.
In short, the US Supreme Court ruled that social networks cannot be held liable for messages supporting ISIS, handing Twitter, Facebook, and Google a victory in this legal matter.
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