Family members of Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, are pressing the Supreme Court to revive their lawsuit against Google for allegedly recommending ISIS videos to YouTube users.
A trial judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the family couldn't proceed with its claims, ruling that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which protects web companies from liability for hosting user-created content -- also protects companies from recommending that material.
Attorneys for the Gonzalez family recently asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the lawsuit, arguing that Section 230 doesn't apply when companies make algorithmically driven recommendations. The family essentially argues that the recommendations should be treated as YouTube's speech, as opposed to speech by the ISIS members who posted the videos.
Google countered last month that algorithmic recommendations are essential to organizing information online.
“Recommendation algorithms are what make it possible to find the needles in humanity’s largest haystack,” Google wrote. "If plaintiffs could evade Section 230... by targeting how websites sort content or trying to hold users liable for liking or sharing articles, the internet would devolve into a disorganized mess and a litigation minefield.”
On Tuesday, lawyers for the Gonzalez family urged the Supreme Court to reject Google's argument.
“Predictions that a particular decision of this Court will have dire consequences are easy to make, but often difficult to evaluate,” counsel wrote.
“There is, on the other hand, no denying that the materials being promoted on social media sites have in fact caused serious harm,” the brief continued. “People have died as a result of material recommended by social media, and will continue to do so.”
The family's lawyers also noted that even without the protections of Section 230, Google -- and other web companies -- could still argue that recommendations are protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the matter on February 21.