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Supreme Court Deliberates Big Tech Liability

The Supreme Court considered on Wednesday whether Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube could be sued in connection with a 2017 Islamic State groups terrorist attack at a Turkish nightclub, on the grounds that these platforms helped the terror group to grow. 

What the justices decide to do in that case, and in related cases from earlier last week, is significant, especially since these companies were protected from liability online, which allowed them to become the behemoths that they are today. 

On day one of arguments, the justices suggested that they had little appetite for a wide-ranging decision that would upend the internet. Wednesday’s case, involving the nightclub bombing in which 39 people died, may offer a backdoor to the justices if they wish to limit the effect of whatever they pass.   

At the center of the case before the justices are two federal laws. The first is Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act, which shields technology companies from lawsuits for materials users post to their sites. The second is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which allows Americans injured by overseas terror attacks to sue in federal court for money damages.  

In the case on Wednesday, the family of a man killed in the Reyna nightclub bombing in Istanbul sued Twitter, Facebook, and Google, parent company of YouTube, under the Terrorism Act. 

Nawras family members, who are American citizens, said the companies helped and abetted the attacks because they helped grow the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for the attacks. A lower court allowed the suit to proceed. The platforms argue they cannot be sued, as they did not intentionally or substantially aid in Rayners attacks.    

If the justices agree, they don’t need to address big questions about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and whether that shields platforms when they recommend content. The larger questions around Section 230 are the focus of the cases the justices heard on Tuesday.    

In the case, the family of a U.S. college student, who was among the 130 killed in the Paris attacks, sued under the terror statute. Nohemi Gonzalezs family claimed the Islamic State group used YouTube to spread its message and recruit people to its cause. 

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