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Communications of the ACM

Legally Speaking

A Legal Challenge to Algorithmic Recommendations

Section 230 icon with water drops, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates

A young American student, Nohemi Gonzalez, was one of 149 people murdered in Paris in 2015 by ISIS terrorists. Her family blames Google for her death, claiming that YouTube's algorithms provided material support to the terrorist organization by recommending violent and radicalizing ISIS videos to its users based on their previous viewing histories. (The Gonzalez complaint levies the same charges against Twitter and Facebook, but to keep things simple, this column refers only to Google.)

Gonzalez' family sued Google for damages for this wrongful death. Both a trial and an appellate court agreed with Google that it could not be held liable for this tragic death under a federal immunity shield widely known as § 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). However, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear Gonzalez' appeal and consider whether YouTube's algorithmic recommendations are beyond the shelter of § 230.


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