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Fight over social media’s role in terror content goes to Supreme Court

The nation’s top court on Monday said it will hear a case that tests the limits of Section 230, the U.S. legal provision that protects social media companies from liability for what third parties post to their sites.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, which involves Google’s alleged responsibility for terrorist propaganda on its subsidiary YouTube, could have long-lasting ramifications for how internet sites treat users’ posts.

The case was brought by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who was killed in a 2015 ISIS terrorist attack in Paris. The suit alleges that Google’s YouTube “aided and abetted” ISIS, in part by allowing its algorithms to recommend video content from the terrorist group.

Section 230 was passed created in 1996 and is credited with helping lay the groundwork for the internet as we now know it. It broadly immunizes websites and online platforms, including social media sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, from being held responsible in civil lawsuits for what their users post.

Section 230: The little law that defined how the Internet works

The law has sparked controversy for years, heating up significantly during the Trump administration, when the president pointed to the law as supposedly enabling social media companies to “censor” conservatives online.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called for reforms to 230, including President Biden.

“The entire scope of Section 230 could be at stake, depending on what the Supreme Court wants to do,” said Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of a book on Section 230, “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the internet.”

The court also said Monday it would consider a separate lawsuit involving Twitter. That case accused Twitter was filed by the widow of a military contractor who was killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan. Her claim accused Twitter of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act by allowing terrorist material to be posted to its site.

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