Holding social media firms financially accountable

Social media platforms have come under fire for the immunity they enjoy from a provision in a U.S. law. That protection is now being put to test.

Updated - October 05, 2022 10:59 am IST

Published - October 04, 2022 01:15 pm IST

Social Media apps shown on an iPhone screen. File

Social Media apps shown on an iPhone screen. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu photo library

Social media platforms have largely benefited from a provision in U.S. law. Under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, 1996, companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, enjoy immunity from being sued for content posted on their platforms.

That protection is now being put to test. In one instance, Google looks to win a case related to a 23-year-old US citizen Nohemi Gonzalez. He was among 129 people killed in coordinated ISIS attacks in Paris in November 2015. His family says YouTube, through its algorithms, violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by recommending the terrorist group’s videos to other users.

The family says that the streaming service’s recommendations are different from publishing activity done by news publishers who use and display third-party content on their websites.

The search giant says YouTube used a sidebar tool to queue up videos based on user inputs, including browsing history. The company says the only alleged link between the Paris attacker and YouTube was that one attacker was an active user of the streaming service and once appeared in an ISIS propaganda video.

A judge had dismissed the case and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling.

In another case, a Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf was killed in a 2017 attack in Istanbul after a gunman affiliated with ISIS killed 39 people at Reina nightclub. Alassaf’s relatives sued the top three social media platforms, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, for aiding terrorism and helping ISIS grow. A lower court let the case proceed.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will hear both these cases seeking to hold social media companies financially responsible for terrorist attacks. The court will hear arguments early next year and rule by the end of its term in late June, according to a report by Bloomberg. The court’s ruling could have a direct impact on the immunity social media platforms enjoy now.

This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get it in your inbox, subscribe here.

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