ACLU and Partners Warn Supreme Court About Dangers of Suppressing Free Speech Online

Groups Urge Court to Protect First Amendment-Protected Speech on Twitter and Other Online Platforms From Overbroad Moderation

December 6, 2022 9:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed an amicus brief today, alongside the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and R Street Institute, urging the Supreme Court to ensure free speech is protected and can flourish on digital platforms like Twitter, Google, Facebook, and others.

The case, Twitter v. Taamneh, asks the Court whether Twitter may be held liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” an attack in Istanbul by ISIS because Twitter failed to adequately block or remove content promoting terrorism from its platform — even though it had no specific knowledge that any particular post furthered a terrorist act. The ACLU and its partners argue that if the Supreme Court allows the Ninth Circuit’s startlingly broad interpretation of the ATA to stand, online intermediaries — like internet service providers, social media platforms, publishers, and other content distributors — will be forced to suppress the First Amendment-protected speech of many of their users.

As the amicus brief explains, given the vast scale of speech occurring on platforms like Twitter every day, online intermediaries will be compelled to use blunt content-moderation tools that over-restrict speech by barring certain topics, speakers, or types of content. Even today, platforms frequently take down content mistakenly identified as offensive or forbidden, for example by confusing a post about a landmark mosque with one about a terrorist group.

“The Supreme Court must ensure that free expression can continue to flourish on the internet. Millions of people use platforms like Twitter every day to share what they’re thinking, and the law does not make Twitter broadly liable for the words or actions of those users,” said Patrick Toomey, deputy director of ACLU’s National Security Project. “We do not want a digital public square where Twitter must suppress entire categories of speech just to avoid a deluge of lawsuits over its users’ posts.”

Twitter v. Taamneh is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

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