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Supreme Court To Hear Cases That Could Reel In Social Media Firms’ Immunity

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The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it might hear two cases this term that would significantly change the character of content moderation on the web.

The court has agreed to listen to Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. Each cases concern whether tech firms may very well be held legally accountable for what users post on their platforms, in addition to for content that users see due to platform’s algorithm.

Web sites generally can’t be held liable in either instance due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated because the publisher of or speaker of data provided by one other information content provider.”

Nohemi Gonzalez was one among 129 people killed during coordinated attacks carried out by the self-described Islamic State in Paris in November 2015.

Gonzalez’s father, Reynaldo Gonzalez, argues in his lawsuit against Google that YouTube’s advice algorithm aided the terrorist group’s recruitment efforts by promoting its videos to users in violation of what’s often called the Anti-Terrorism Act.

In Twitter v. Taamneh, the family of Nawras Alassaf, the victim of a 2017 nightclub attack carried out by the self-described Islamic State, alleges social media firms provided material support for terrorism and didn’t do enough to examine the group’s presence on their platforms.

As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern observed, there’s “cross-ideological consensus” amongst lower court judges that the time has come for the boundaries of Section 230 to be revisited.

Last yr, Judge Marsha Lee Siegel Berzon of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Bill Clinton appointee, urged her colleagues to reconsider legal precedent surrounding Section 230 “to the extent that it holds that section 230 extends to the usage of machine-learning algorithms to recommend content and connections to users.”

In 2020, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled that he was open to hearing arguments over Section 230, writing, “in an appropriate case, we must always consider whether the text of this increasingly essential statute aligns with the present state of immunity enjoyed by Web platforms.”

Section 230 has come under attack from each Democrats and Republicans, albeit for various reasons. Former President Donald Trump tweeted “REVOKE 230!” after Twitter began putting fact-checking labels on his missives. And as a candidate in 2020, President Joe Biden told The Recent York Times editorial board that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg “needs to be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, similar to you can be here at The Recent York Times.”

Others have cautioned that limiting Section 230 could chill freedom of expression on the net. Its supporters argue it provides legal protections to small bloggers in addition to web sites like Wikipedia and Reddit, which could otherwise be held accountable for the content of their comment sections or crowd-sourced material.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to civil liberties on the net, has referred to Section 230 as “one among the Most worthy tools for shielding freedom of expression and innovation on the Web” and says it “creates a broad protection that has allowed innovation and free speech online to flourish.”

Right-wingers have cited Section 230 while arguing that social media firms discriminate against conservative viewpoints ― although on Facebook, for instance, conservative media dominates and have said that these firms should subsequently be subjected to the identical legal constraints as traditional publishers.

Sarcastically, as some observers have noted, the restriction or elimination of Section 230 would likely result in more limits on web speech, not fewer.

“It could create a prescreening of every bit of fabric every body posts and result in an exceptional amount of moderation and prevention,” Aaron Mackey, staff attorney at EFF, told NPR in 2020. “What every platform can be concerned about is: ‘Do I risk anything to have this content posted to my site?’”

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