Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh

Decided: May 18, 2023
Citation: Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh, 598 U.S ___ (2023)
Appeal from: Ninth Circuit
Case document: Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh

Facts of the case
On January 1st, 2017, a gunman entered an Istanbul nightclub and killed 39 people on behalf of ISIS. Among the victims was Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf. Following his death, Alassaf’s family sued Twitter, Google, and Facebook, claiming they “aided and abetted” the attack in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”) and the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (“JASTA”). His family argued that the platforms should have taken aggressive action to remove terrorist-related content from their sites. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, but the Ninth Circuit reversed and ruled that the media platforms may be liable for Alassaf’s death, leading Twitter to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Question for the Court
This case asks the Court to determine whether a social media company is liable for “aiding and abetting” a terrorist attack by “knowingly providing substantial assistance”, per the ATA and JASTA, because it failed to do enough to remove terrorist-related content from its platform.

Decision
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Twitter was not legally responsible for the death of Nawras Alassaf. Justice Clarence Thomas authored the opinion, noting that the Court “do[es] not think that internet or cell service providers incur culpability merely for providing their services to the public writ large. Nor do [they] think that such providers would normally be described as aiding and abetting, for example, illegal drug deals brokered over cell phones — even if provider’s conference-call or video-call features made the sale easier.”

Free press implications
This decision not only reinforces protections for social media platforms but also protects free speech for journalists, making clear that liability for “aiding and abetting” terrorism will be interpreted narrowly when there are First Amendment implications. This means news publishers are more likely to be protected when they report on terrorism, where someone might claim that their coverage provides assistance to terrorists.

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