Twitter in the spotlight at the Supreme Court over terrorism liability

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 1:08 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Tech giants are in the crosshairs of the nation’s high court this week. The justices are considering the immunity and liability that come with influential platforms. One blockbuster case involving Twitter boils down to a fight over whether the company should be held liable for terrorists using the platform to carry out deadly attacks.

Twitter v. Taamneh stems from a 2017 ISIS attack at a nightclub in Istanbul. The family of one of those killed sued Twitter citing the Antiterrorism Act. The Taamneh family claims Twitter knowingly provided ISIS assistance, aiding and abetting an act of international terrorism by allowing the terror group’s content on their platform.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that claim should be reviewed by a trial court, leading Twitter and other tech companies to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Their algorithms allegedly promoted ISIS’ content, particularly ISIS’ violent content which included beheadings and mass executions that proliferated across social media,” said Gary Osen who represents a number of terror victims related to this case.

There are two very similar cases involving the liability of tech giants before the court this week, focused on different areas of law. Osen says the first is focused on part of a law that gives these platforms immunity when it comes to third party content posted on their sites. But the Taamneh versus Twitter case goes beyond the immunity law.

“What the tech companies say is, ‘it was not enough for us to have known we were helping ISIS by letting them use our platform. You would have to allege and ultimately prove that we knowingly assisted the specific attack in Istanbul,’” said Osen.

Osen says the court may decide immunity should continue, but boosting certain content, like ISIS videos, could be penalized. Osen is not sure just how much immunity, if any, the court will decide to roll back considering how crucial it is for these companies.

“Without that immunity, their whole business model is threatened. They would have to greatly restrict what appears on their platforms for fear of being sued left and right,” said Osen.

Oral arguments are set to begin Wednesday morning. As for a decision in the case, we do not expect that to come until late spring or early summer.