Feb 23, 2023

Supreme Court Reviews Section 230 Case That Could Change the Internet

The upcoming Supreme Court ruling could have big implications for the tech and social media industries.

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What's happening: The Supreme Court is reviewing Gonzalez v. Google, a case in which the family of a young woman killed in an ISIS attack wants Google, the parent company of YouTube, to be held liable for her death—YouTube's algorithm recommended ISIS videos used to recruit members to carry out the attack.

It's about Section 230: In 1996, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed. It protects internet providers and tech companies from being held liable for user content hosted on their platforms. It also allows platforms to censor with impunity. The Supreme Court will decide whether algorithms used to recommend content to users fall under these protections. Google argues that if algorithms aren't legally protected, platforms will be incentivized to remove more controversial content to avoid being sued.

The paradox: Both sides of the aisle have been pushing to repeal or reform Section 230 with opposite expectations. Republicans, disproportionately affected by censorship, want it reformed so that platforms are no longer given a free pass to moderate content as they wish. Democrats, who have fought for more censorship to battle “disinformation,” want it repealed so that these companies have to either censor views that the government finds dangerous or be held accountable for that speech.

Free speech concerns: The justices have expressed concern that modifying or repealing Section 230 protections could upend a delicate balance on the internet and lead to a flood of lawsuits. If tech companies respond to a Section 230 repeal by wiping controversial content from their platforms, it could limit the internet's free speech and diversity of thought. Ultimately, it's unclear how Section 230 repeal would impact the internet.

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