Supreme Court weighs lifting liability protections for social media platforms in terrorism case – National & International News – TUES 22Feb2023


Supreme Court weighs lifting liability protections for social media platforms in terrorism case.

Judge rules 9/11 families cannot claim Afghan funds as compensation.

Putin suspends Russia’s participation in last remaining nuclear treaty.


Supreme Court weighs lifting liability protections for social media platforms in terrorism case

Since the 1990s, Internet-based forums have enjoyed protection from civil liability for content posted to their platforms by users. This liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 came into being long before the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. Some experts and policymakers believe that Section 230 needs a rethink to account for the business models of some social media companies.

In 2015, American college student Nohemi Gonzalez was among the 129 people killed in Paris in coordinated attacks by ISIS-linked terrorists. Gonzalez family is suing Google, the parent company of video-sharing platform YouTube. The family alleges that YouTube helped ISIS recruit followers by directing users to content posted by ISIS sympathizers.

YouTube, like many social media companies, uses an algorithm to direct users to content they think they will like based on users’ other activity, including searches. These algorithms are designed to boost user engagement, which in turn boosts YouTube’s ad-based revenue.

Attorneys for Google say that the company has taken steps to try to limit content that promotes terrorism and other inflammatory subjects. Google also says that if 230 needs to be revisited, that decision should come from Congress rather than the courts. 

Justices seem skeptical

During arguments, the Justices seemed more sympathetic to Google’s arguments. Justice Elena Kagan acknowledged that 230 might be ripe for revision given the emergence of algorithms designed to maximize engagement and revenue.

“[Section 230] was a pre-algorithm statute,” Justice Kagan said. “And, you know, everybody is trying their best to figure out how this statute applies, [how] the statute which was a pre-algorithm statute applies in a post-algorithm world”.

However, Kagan didn’t seem to think the Court was the best venue to argue those revisions. “These are not the nine greatest experts on the Internet,” Kagan said, spurring laughter.

Justices Samuel Alito and Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed confusion at the arguments presented by the Gonzalez family attorney, Eric Schnapper. Schnapper argued Google had aided and abetted ISIS in violation of a federal anti-terrorism statute by recommending the ISIS videos to users.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also referred to warnings from Google’s supporters that a decision by the Court limiting Section 230 could have serious consequences not only for platforms but also for creators who earn money from posting content 

“Those are serious concerns, and concerns that Congress, if it were to take a look at this and try to fashion something along the lines of what you’re saying, could account for,” Justice Kavanaugh said. “We are not equipped to account for that”.

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NY Judge says 9/11 families cannot claim Afghan funds as compensation

Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York has ruled against a group representing families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who sought to claim $3.5 billion in frozen assets from the Afghan central bank.

When the US withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the New York Federal Reserve bank was holding about $7 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. Following the US withdrawal, President Biden decided to put half of it towards easing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and to set the other half aside for victims of Islamic terrorism.

Years ago, a coalition of 9/11 families won default judgments against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other organizations believed to have supported the attacks. Attorneys for the families argued that this $3.5 billion should go to service that judgement. However, in August of 2022, Federal Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn recommended against awarding the funds to the families.

Netburn’s reasoning was that the funds belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban. To award the funds to the plaintiffs, the court would essentially be recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate leadership of Afghanistan. That is something only the US State Department can do as it’s a matter of US foreign policy. 

Today’s ruling from Judge Daniels upholds Judge Netburn’s recommendation on those grounds. Judge Daniels also ruled that federal courts lacked jurisdiction over the funds for similar reasons. Nevertheless, the families intend to appeal the decision. The case could eventually find its way to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially the Supreme Court, assuming those courts agree to hear it.

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Putin suspends Russia’s participation in last remaining nuclear treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech today ahead of the one-year anniversary of his invasion of Ukraine. Putin said Russian troops would stay in Ukraine until their “objectives” had been accomplished, without clarifying what those objectives were. He also ridiculed “disloyal” oligarchs who had resisted the war or fled the country, fearing sanctions. 

Putin also said he was suspending Russia’s participation in the New START anti-nuclear proliferation treaty. This is the last nuclear monitoring treaty between the US and Russia that remains in force. The treaty allows each country to inspect each other’s nuclear sites. US sources say that Russia hasn’t been complying with the terms of the treaty for some time.

On several occasions since the war began, Putin and other Russian officials have raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the conflict. US intelligence says Russian military officials discussed in November how and under what circumstances they might deploy nukes. However, the US has seen no sign yet that Russia is mobilizing its nuclear arsenal.

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