Free speech online is on the line as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a potentially groundbreaking case on Tuesday.
Gonzalez v. Google challenges Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields Google GOOGL,
The case, which was brought by the family of an American who died in a terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, claims Alphabet Inc.’s Google and YouTube did not do enough to remove or stop promoting ISIS terrorist videos seeking to recruit members. The family contends that was in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Google won in the lower courts on the basis that Section 230 provides it with liability protection. Courts generally have found that Section 230 shields them from culpability over posts, images, and videos that people share on their services.
While Google lawyer Lisa Blatt told the justices such immunity is essential to tech companies’ ability to provide useful and safe content, Gonzalez family lawyer Eric Schnapper argued that applying Section 230 to algorithmic recommendations provides an incentive to promote harmful content.
For years, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have assailed the broad scope of Section 230 on grounds as varied as claims that it has deepened censorship on the internet or that it has done next to nothing to limit the spread of hate speech and misinformation on the internet.
But tech companies and free-speech advocates warn that changes to Section 230 would irrevocably alter the way the internet operates, incentivizing popular services to limit or slow down users’ ability to post to avoid being held liable for what they say.
The nation’s highest court is also scheduled to hear a separate tech case Wednesday, Twitter v. Taamneh. In that case, the court will consider whether Twitter should be held accountable under the Anti-Terrorism Act for not removing terrorist content from its platform.
Decisions in both cases are expected to be issued in several months.