How the Supreme Court can review the way you live online

How the Supreme Court can review the way you live online

How the Supreme Court can review the way you live online

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Now they are at the center of a landmark court case that finally has the power to completely change the way we live online. On February 21, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gonzalez vs. Google, which addresses allegations that Google violated anti-terrorism law when YouTube endorsements promoted ISIS content. This is the first time the court will consider a legal provision called Section 230.


Section 230 is the legal foundation upon which, for decades, all major Internet companies with user-generated material – Google, Facebook, Wikimedia, AOL, even Craigslist – have built their policies and often their businesses. As I wrote last week, it has “long protected social platforms from lawsuits over harmful user-generated content while allowing them the freedom to remove posts at their discretion.” (Reminder: Presidents Trump and Biden have both said they favor scrapping Section 230, which they say gives platforms too much power with little control; tech companies and many free speech advocates want to keep it.)

SCOTUS addressed a very specific question: is recommendations content identical to display of content, the latter being widely accepted as being covered by Article 230?

The stakes couldn’t really be higher. As I wrote: “[I] If Section 230 is repealed or widely reinterpreted, these companies could be forced to transform their approach to content moderation and revise their platform architectures in the process.

Without getting into all the legal jargon here, what’s important to understand is that while it might seem plausible to make a distinction between recommendation algorithms (especially those that help terrorists) and displaying and hosting content, technically speaking, it’s a really murky distinction. . Algorithms that sort by timeline, geography or other criteria somehow manage the display of most content, and tech companies and some experts say it’s not easy to draw a line between that and the algorithm. amplificationwhich deliberately boosts certain content and can have harmful consequences (and some beneficial ones too).

While my story last week focused on the risks the decision poses to online community moderation systems, including features like Reddit upvoting, the experts I spoke with had many concerns. . Many of them shared the same concern that SCOTUS will not render a technically and socially nuanced decision with clarity.

“This Supreme Court doesn’t give me a lot of confidence,” Eric Goldman, a professor and dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law, told me. Goldman fears the decision could have broad unintended consequences and is concerned about the risk of “internet killer opinion.”

On the other hand, some experts have told me that the harm inflicted on individuals and society by algorithms has reached an unacceptable level, and while it may be more ideal to regulate algorithms through legislation, SCOTUS should really take this opportunity to change the law on the Internet.


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