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Supreme Court avoids ruling on tech companies' liability for user content

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to rule on the issue of whether tech companies can be held liable for content posted on their websites. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to rule on the issue of whether tech companies can be held liable for content posted on their websites. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to rule on a law that protects Internet companies from lawsuits relating to content that is posted on their platforms by users.

The case before the court involved allegations that YouTube was liable for suggesting videos that promoted violent militant Islam. The lawsuit accused the tech company of having some responsibility in the killing of Nohemi Gonzalez, an American college student, in the 2015 Paris attacks carried out by the Islamic State terrorist group.

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However, in an unsigned opinion, the high court sidestepped the issue of whether or not liability protections enshrined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protected YouTube's alleged conduct.

"We therefore decline to address the application of Section 230 to a complaint that appears to state little, if any, plausible claim for relief," the court said.

But in a similar case on Thursday that was brought against Twitter, the court ruled that it could not be held liable for those claims under the Anti-Terrorism Act. In that case, relatives of Nawras Alassaf, who was killed in Istanbul in 2017, attempted to hold the social media company accountable for Alassaf's death in the Reina nightclub massacre.

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"Plaintiffs have failed to allege that defendants intentionally provided any substantial aid to the Reina attack or otherwise consciously participated in the Reina attack -- much less that defendants so pervasively and systemically assisted ISIS as to render them liable for every ISIS attack," Justice Clarence Thomas said.

In the YouTube case, Gonzalez's family alleged that YouTube helped ISIS spread its message through its algorithms.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing Section 230. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then upheld that ruling

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