The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Could Musk’s cuts open Twitter to lawsuits over terrorist content?

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Thursday! A quick programming note: The newsletter will be off Friday but back in your inboxes Monday.

Below: The Justice Department sets a course for Google’s map business, and Meta readies for more layoffs. First:

Could Musk’s cuts open Twitter to lawsuits over terrorist content?

As the Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed whether Twitter bears any liability for the Islamic State killing of a Jordanian man in 2017, Justice Elena Kagan raised a notable hypothetical: Would the case be any different if the platform stopped fighting terrorist content altogether?

The family of the victim, Nawras Alassaf, argues Twitter and other social media platforms should be held liable for allegedly aiding and abetting the terrorist group by allowing its material to gain prominence online. The company has disputed the claim, arguing in part that it has “enforced policies against” such material. 

But what if, Kagan said, “Twitter had just said, ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom, we’re not going to touch a thing.” Would that affect whether the platform could be held liable? 

The hypothetical has a real-world implication. While the case predates Elon Musk’s takeover, the mogul has dramatically downsized Twitter’s moderation force, raising fears these actions will bring Kagan’s scenario to life.

In Twitter v. Taamneh, the Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling that may settle what steps, if any, social media platforms need to take to avoid liability for hosting terrorist content, which could send shock waves through the industry.

Such a decision may have heightened significance for the company under Musk, who has shuttered large swaths of the teams tasked with fighting that very kind of dangerous material. 

Those moves, ostensibly part of Musk’s plan to boost “free speech” on the site, have led to reports of rising hate speech and harassment globally, as my colleague Joseph Menn wrote.

Twitter’s policies still ban “terrorist organizations” and “violent extremist groups” as of January, and it’s not immediately clear if or how Musk’s changes have impacted its counterterror work. But experts on online extremism have said they are bracing for a spike in activity, as I reported

Twitter, which has been fighting the lawsuit since last year, pushed back on Kagan’s line of questioning during the oral arguments for the case Wednesday.

“I don’t think so,” Twitter attorney Seth Waxman said in response to Kagan’s hypothetical. But Kagan appeared to take umbrage at his remarks.

“Your answer strikes me as quite something, actually,” she said. Kagan later raised the specter that platforms showing “willful blindness” to terrorist content could potentially constitute knowledge of aid.

Waxman argued that the link between the platform generally knowing it was hosting Islamic State content and Alassaf’s killing was far too thin to establish liability, in part because it had no advance knowledge of and did not “substantially'' contribute to the attack.

Chamber of Progress legal advocacy counsel Jess Miers said those arguments about how a lack of moderation could trigger liability “foreshadow how internet litigation is going to look” if the court doesn’t toss out this and a related lawsuit against Google.

Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor of law at Stanford, said she was struck by how much some of the justices appeared “sympathetic” to the aiding and abetting claims leveled against Twitter, which she didn’t expect the court would find had a “sufficient basis.”

“You heard from many justices this concern that platforms surely can't get let off the hook for everything, and there must be a point at which they can be held liable [for] …. not being responsible actors,” Douek said. 

Still, several justices expressed skepticism about the case against Twitter, appearing over the course of this week “reluctant to impose substantial changes in how social media platforms can be held liable for contentious or even dangerous content on their sites,” as Robert Barnes and I reported.

While the court may entertain drawing a line on where liability begins and ends, Douek and Miers said, that doesn’t mean it will be inclined to weigh in forcefully.

“Often the court will be reluctant to come up with a rule that isn't about the facts in front of it, so it may leave the door open for a future case for a future day,” Douek said. 

“I’m actually cautiously optimistic about the chances for success for both Google and Twitter,” said Miers, whose left-leaning trade group receives funding from tech companies including Google, Apple and Amazon. 

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Our top tabs

Justice Department zeroing in on Google Maps

Officials for the Justice Department have been meeting with Google’s competitors and customers about a potential lawsuit challenging its dominant position in the market for digital maps, Politico’s Josh Sisco reports

A lawsuit targeting Google Maps could be filed this year, according to the report. “The investigation is ongoing, and no decision has been made on whether to file a case or on what to include in a complaint.” 

The discussions come less than a month after the Justice Department filed a long-anticipated lawsuit separately targeting Google’s lucrative digital ads business.

Meta prepares for more cuts, after Zuckerberg predicted no more layoffs

“Facebook parent company Meta is preparing for a fresh round of job cuts, deputizing human resources, lawyers, financial experts and top executives to draw up plans to deflate the company’s hierarchy, in a reorganization and downsizing effort that could affect thousands of workers,” my colleague Naomi Nix reports.

“Meta plans to push some leaders into lower-level roles without direct reports, flattening the layers of management between Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the company’s interns,” Naomi writes. “Other managers may end up overseeing a higher number of employees as their teams grow bigger. Some inside Meta expect employees whose jobs have been converted to eventually quit, trimming the company’s workforce by default.”

In November, Meta announced plans to lay off more than 11,000 jobs, or 13 percent of its workforce, the latest in a series of cuts across the industry.

Amazon closes deal to buy One Medical

Amazon said Wednesday it closed its deal to acquire primary care provider One Medical, CNBC’s Annie Palmer reports.

“Amazon has long had ambitions to expand into health care, buying online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 for $750 million, then launching its own virtual clinic for chronic conditions, and prescription perks for Prime members,” according to the report. “The deal gives Amazon access to One Medical’s more than 200 brick-and-mortar medical offices in 26 markets, and roughly 815,000 members.”

The announcement came after news reports surfaced Tuesday that the Federal Trade Commission would not look to block the deal. “The FTC’s investigation of Amazon’s acquisition of One Medical continues,” FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar said.

Inside the industry

European Commission bans TikTok from staff phones over security fears (Emily Rauhala and Beatriz Ríos)

Would You Pay for Social Media? Meta, Twitter and Snap Want to Find Out (Wall Street Journal)

Baidu to implement ChatGPT-like Ernie Bot chatbot from March (Associated Press)

How Arizona Is Positioning Itself for $52 Billion to the Chips Industry (New York Times)

Workforce report

Google Subcontractors Face Low Pay, Inadequate Benefits, Union Survey Finds (Bloomberg)


How to secure your Twitter account for free (Heather Kelly)

Before you log off

Thats all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email