FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
PARIS – On the evening of November 13, 2015, Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, met American and French friends at the tables at Carillon, the bar at the intersection of Via Bichat and Via Alibert in east Paris. The daughter of Mexican immigrants from Whittier near Los Angeles, the first in the family to go to college, was about to end her six-month exchange degree in France and was due to return to California in February to study design.
At 9:25 p.m., after the explosions at the Stade de France, the second Islamic State terrorist cell went into action and shot at the boys sitting in front of the bar. A few hours later, her mother Beatrice received the news in her hair salon in Whittier: Nohemi was killed, she is the only American victim of the attacks on the restaurants and the Bataclan.
In the weeks and months that followed, the world tried to understand the nature of the Islamic State, how the organization recruited its soldiers, how children born and raised in Belgium or France could choose to massacre the innocent. Apparently, areas of study included the internet and social media and their clever use first by al Qaeda and then by Isis. An Israeli NGO, Shurat HaDin, which fights terrorism through lawsuits, has suggested Nohemi Gonzalez’s parents sue Google, YouTube’s parent company: The Islamic State is allowed to distribute its propaganda videos on the site, and if the YouTube algorithm then rejects them had come to the fore, Google would have been responsible for the involuntary complicity with the terrorists.
The case, which has been ongoing for years, arrives today before the US Supreme Court, which must rule on the “26 words that form the foundation of the Internet”: ie Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 statute which prohibits platforms for content created by others are punishable. According to Section 230, YouTube, but also Twitter or Facebook, are not regarded as publishers, but as simple distributors of third-party material.
The lawyers for the Gonzalez family and the NGO Shurat HaDin deny precisely this form of irresponsibility: “The videos consulted on YouTube are the main way in which Isis has received support and new recruits outside the territories of Syria and Iraq”. Therefore, according to the complainants, Section 230 must be repealed or at least amended: sites with billions of users could not limit themselves to banning pornographic content as they do today, but would also have to control other dangerous content such as Islamist propaganda videos.
The petition to the Supreme Court is based on a fundamental aspect: automatic algorithms suggest specific videos based on users’ preferences and what they have seen before. If YouTube, albeit unwittingly, favors certain images over others, it’s difficult to argue that the platform has no editorial function. But Section 230 defenders point out that without this protection, the Internet as we have known it could no longer function. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, former head of Twitter, have spoken out in favor of an overhaul in the past, but so far without consequences.