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Family Tragedies at Root of Social Media Legal Cases

A pair of cases at the U.S. Supreme Court this week have been heralded as having the potential to change the internet in fundamental ways, but both started with personal tragedies that the victims' families blame on social media companies, Reuters reports. The high court today hears oral arguments in a case that seeks to hold YouTube accountable for hosting Islamic State content and recommending inflammatory videos to certain users. The case arose from the death of a California State University student killed in an Islamic State attack in Paris that claimed 130 lives. The case to be argued Wednesday makes similar claims against Twitter by American relatives of a Jordanian man, one of 39 people slain in an attack on Istanbul nightclub that the Islamic State took credit for. In both cases, the social media platforms are accused of not adequately policing the content on their services by hiding behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230, passed by Congress early in the commercial develop of the internet, grants legal immunity to social media companies for content their users post. In a court filing, Google told the justices the law is "a central building block of the modern internet," adding, "Eroding Section 230's protection would create perverse incentives that could both increase removals of legal but controversial speech on some websites and lead other websites to close their eyes to harmful or even illegal content." Critics including Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump have said Section 230 needs reform in light of the actions of social media companies in the decades since its enactment. Twitter is appealing after a lower court allowed that lawsuit to proceed and found that the company refused to take "meaningful steps" to prevent Islamic State's use of the platform. Twitter in a Supreme Court filing said it has terminated more than 1.7 million accounts for violating rules against "threatening or promoting terrorism." Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the victim's family in the YouTube case, said the social media companies must do more. "One thing is very clear," Darshan-Leitner said. "There should be zero tolerance for terrorism on social media. Terror organizations are using social media as a tool that they never had before - and cannot do without."


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