What's at Stake
The Supreme Court will decide whether a social media or other platform can be liable for “aiding and abetting” a terrorist attack merely because it failed to adequately block content valorizing terrorism, even where the platform has policies barring terrorist content.
This case concerns the interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of terrorism to sue in federal courts those who have provided substantial assistance to acts of terrorism. Relatives of victims of ISIS terrorism invoked this law to sue Google, Twitter, and Facebook, arguing that because these platforms did not act sufficiently aggressively to take down “terrorist” content, they should be held liable for ISIS acts of terrorism. The ACLU’s amicus brief argues that merely providing a platform to all for speech purposes cannot be sufficient to establish “substantial assistance” to an act of terrorism under the statute, and that the statute should be read with First Amendment principles in mind when applied to those who publish and distribute speech of others. Just as bookstores cannot be held liable for the contents of every book they sell, so social media platforms cannot be held liable for the content of every post that someone uploads to their sites. Were the rule otherwise, platforms would be forced to review content before it was uploaded, and to bar access to anything that might conceivably render them liable
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that hosting, displaying, and recommending videos, without more, is not aiding and abetting terrorism. The decision ensures that social media platforms will not be held accountable for terrorism merely because their platforms are generally open to all.