The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that social media platform Twitter is not liable for terror-related content on its platform. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the court's decision, so the platforms could be secondarily liable.
The case, Twitter Inc v. Taamneh, was based on allegations that Twitter aided and abetted ISIS in its terror attack on a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey on January 1, 2017.
39 people, including one Israeli, had been killed in the attack.
Why was Twitter sued?
The family of a victim of the attack brought the case to court under the law that US nationals who have been “injured . . . by reason of an act of international terrorism” are able to file a civil suit for damages.
As mentioned in the court documents, in 2016, Congress enacted the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) to impose secondary civil liability on anyone “who aids and abets, by knowingly providing substantial assistance, or who conspires with the person who committed such an act of international terrorism.
The family filed against Twitter, Facebook and Google for aiding and abetting ISIS.
The plaintiffs claim that the social media’s algorithms, which are designed to target content, allowed ISIS to recruit, fundraise and spread propaganda. The plaintiffs also accused the companies of profiting from ISIS's social media presence.
Why did Twitter win the initial lawsuit?
According to the court documents, the social media platform did not have a strong enough connection with the Reina attack for them to be liable. Any relationship, monetarily or otherwise, that the platform may have had with ISIS was at a consistent level as other users.
“Plaintiffs make no allegations that defendants’ relationship with ISIS was significantly different from their arm’s length, passive, and largely indifferent relationship with most users,” the court’s documents said.
According to the document, 500 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube, 510,000 comments are posted on Facebook and 347,000 tweets are tweeted per minute.
Another reason given is that the plaintiffs did not claim, or prove, that the social media had the intention of aiding and abetting ISIS.
Additionally, the documents indicated that Twitter had no legal obligation to act against illicit acts on its site.
“Plaintiffs identify no duty that would require defendants or other communication-providing services to terminate customers after discovering that the customers were using the service for illicit ends.”
The case against other social media platforms
An allegation was also made that Google reviewed and approved ISIS content for YouTube, as part of the site’s revenue-sharing system. This would mean that Google profited with ISIS on content shared. However, this was not upheld by the courts as the plaintiffs could not provide data on how much Google profited from ISIS or provide information on specific content that was approved.