Partisanship worsened the traffic jam. Republicans, some of whom accused Facebook, Twitter and other sites of censoring them, are putting pressure on platforms to put up more content. In contrast, Democrats said platforms should remove more content, such as health misinformation.
The Supreme Court case challenging Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is likely to have many ripple effects. While newspapers and magazines can be sued for what they publish, Section 230 protects online platforms from lawsuits over most content posted by their users. It also protects platforms from lawsuits when they remove posts.
For years, judges have invoked the law in dismissing claims against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, ensuring the companies don’t take on new legal liability with every status update, post and viral video. Critics said the law was a get-out-of-jail-free card for tech giants.
“If they don’t have any liability on the back end for any of the harms that are facilitated, they basically have a mandate to be as reckless as possible,” said Mary Ann Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami.
The Supreme Court previously declined to hear several cases challenging the statute. In 2020, a court rejected a claim by the families of people killed in terrorist attacks that Facebook was responsible for promoting extremist content. In 2019, a court refused to hear the case of a man who said his ex-boyfriend sent people to harass him using the dating app Grindr. The man is suing the app, saying it has a defective product.
But on February 21, the court plans to hear Gonzalez v. Google, which was brought by the family of an American killed in Paris during an attack by followers of the Islamic State. In their lawsuit, the family said Section 230 should not shield YouTube from claims the video site supports terrorism when its algorithms recommend Islamic State videos to users. The suit argues that testimonials can be considered their own form of content produced by the platform, removing them from Section 230 protection.
A day later, the court plans to hear a second case, Twitter v. Taamneh. It addresses a related issue of when platforms are legally liable for supporting terrorism under federal law.
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