How the Supreme Court’s Section 230 Ruling Could End Reddit as We Know It

How the Supreme Court’s Section 230 Ruling Could End Reddit as We Know It

How the Supreme Court's Section 230 Ruling Could End Reddit as We Know It

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But another big issue is at play that has received far less attention: Depending on the outcome of the case, individual site users may suddenly be liable for mundane content moderation. Many sites rely on users for community moderation to edit, shape, delete and promote other users’ content online – think Reddit upvote or edits to a Wikipedia page. What if those users were forced to take legal risks every time they made a content decision?


In short, the court could modify Section 230 in a way that will not only impact large platforms; Smaller sites like Reddit and Wikipedia that rely on community moderation will also be affected, warns Emma Llansó, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Free Expression project. “It would be a huge loss for online speaking communities if all of a sudden it became really risky for the mods themselves to do their job,” she says.

In an amicus brief filed in January, lawyers for Reddit argued that its signature up/down voting feature was under threat in Gonzalez vs. Google, the case that will revisit the application of Section 230. Users “directly determine what content gets promoted or becomes less visible using Reddit’s innovative ‘upvote’ and ‘downvote’ features,” the brief states. “All of these activities are protected by Section 230, which Congress crafted to immunize internet ‘users’, not just platforms.”

At the heart of González is whether “recommending” content is different from displaying content; this is widely believed to have broad implications for the recommendation algorithms that power platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. But it could also impact users’ right to like and promote content in forums where they act as community moderators and effectively reinforce certain content over other content.

Reddit wonders where user preferences fit, directly or indirectly, into the interpretation of the “recommendation”. “The danger is that you and I, when we use the internet, do a lot of things that don’t actually create content,” says Ben Lee, general counsel at Reddit. “We see other people’s content and then we interact with it. At what point are we ourselves, because of what we have done, to recommend this content? »

Reddit currently has 50 million daily active users, according to its amicus brief, and the site sorts its content by whether users upvote or downvote posts and comments in a thread. While it uses recommendation algorithms to help new users find discussions they might be interested in, much of its content recommendation system relies on these community votes. Therefore, a change to community moderation would likely drastically change how the site works.

“Can we [users] be dragged into a lawsuit, even a well-meaning lawsuit, just because we put a two-star review for a restaurant, just because we clicked an upvote or downvote on that post, just because we decided to do volunteering for our community and start deleting posts or adding posts? Lee asks. “Are [these actions] enough for us to suddenly become responsible for something? »

An “existential threat” for small platforms

Lee points to a case in recent Reddit history. In 2019, on the r/Screenwriting subreddit, users started discussing screenwriting contests they thought were scams. The operator of these alleged scams sued the r/Screenwriting moderator for pinning and commenting on the posts, thereby prioritizing this content. The California Superior Court of LA County excused the moderator from the lawsuit, which Reddit said was due to the protection of Section 230. Lee worries that a different interpretation of Section 230 will leave moderators, as that of r/Screenwriting, much more vulnerable to similar lawsuits in the future.


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