Ex-Israeli intel officials to SCOTUS: Social media platforms aid, abet terrorism

Top former Israeli defense and intelligence officials file amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of a terror victims' case against Google.

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 3, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 3, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

Top former Israeli defense and intelligence officials filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in support of a terror victims’ case against Google, blaming the social media platform giant for aiding and abetting terror.

The case – Gonzalez v. Google – was brought by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American student who was killed by an ISIS terrorist in a café in Paris, in an attack that the family claims was influenced by social media.

The plaintiffs are challenging the use of social media algorithms to spread and recommend posts that radicalize and incite violence, arguing that by taking an active part in recommending and pushing these posts to other users, social media platforms are in violation of the Antiterrorism Act and should not enjoy protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which until now has shielded Big Tech from similar lawsuits.

The Gonzalez family argued that Google was in part liable for Nohemi’s death because YouTube, which is owned by the tech giant, essentially recommended videos by ISIS to some users through its algorithms. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet Inc.

The case reached the Supreme Court after the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Google, saying it was protected from such claims because of Section 230.

Biden administration in response to SCOTUS

Last week, the Biden administration filed a response to the Supreme Court, and while it did not argue that Google should be held liable in the Gonzalez case, it said algorithms used by YouTube and other providers should be subject to a different kind of scrutiny. Justice Department lawyers called for the Supreme Court to return the case to the 9th Circuit for further review.

The amicus brief filed by the Israelis was signed by former defense minister and IDF chief of staff Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, former police commissioner Roni Alsheich, former National Security Council head Yaacov Amidror, former head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Tamir Hayman, and Haim Tomer, a former top Mossad officer.

“Owing to the sophisticated algorithms instituted by social media platforms, terrorist groups, old and emerging alike, can now reach and mobilize new adherents to effectuate terror waves of street-level stabbings or hit-and-run vehicle collisions, all under the radar of counterterrorist agencies,” the amicus brief signed by the former officials said.

Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 14, 2016 (credit: REUTERS)Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 14, 2016 (credit: REUTERS)

Attorney David Tolchin of the Jaroslawicz & Jaros law firm in New York, who submitted the brief on the Israelis’ behalf, said the officials did so to ensure the court knows how terrorist groups have become more sophisticated in Internet use over the last few years.

“The sophisticated algorithms that generate enormous revenue for social media platforms are being abused to radicalize and incite new members to commit terror attacks,” Tolchin said. “Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter must be incentivized to use their technology to interrupt the deadly wave of terrorism that is not abating. It can only be done the old-fashioned way, where Big Tech will feel it in the pocketbook. No company should be immunized from suit when it aids and abets terrorists.”

“The sophisticated algorithms that generate enormous revenue for social media platforms are being abused to radicalize and incite new members to commit terror attacks.”

David Tolchin

The Shurat HaDin Law Center in Tel Aviv, whose president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner represents the Gonzalez family, welcomed the amicus brief.

“The amicus brief is nothing but an indictment against the multi-billion Internet giants, which sacrificed the lives of millions around the world for an extra buck added to the value of their shares. Instead of using their advanced algorithms to create a safer environment on their platforms, they used it to spread hate and violence,” Darshan-Leitner said. “We trust SCOTUS [the Supreme Court of the US] will see the injustice created by the platforms’ misuse of the extraordinary protection granted to them almost three decades ago, which they neither need nor deserve today.”

Additional amicus briefs were filed by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, Facebook, the American Civil Liberties Union, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the National Police Association and a large number of US states.