Supreme Court set to reconsider key principles of online speech
Partisanship has deepened the impasse. Republicans, some of whom have accused Facebook, Twitter and other sites of censoring them, have pressured the platforms to leave more content. By 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 for most content posted by their users. It also protects platforms from legal action when they delete posts.
For years, judges have cited 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 the tech giants.
“If they have no rear-end liability for the damages that are facilitated, they basically have a mandate to be as reckless as possible,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami.
The Supreme Court has previously refused to hear several cases challenging the law. In 2020, the court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the families of individuals killed in terrorist attacks, alleging Facebook was responsible for promoting extremist content. In 2019, the court refused to hear the case of a man who said his former boyfriend sent people to harass him using the dating app Grindr. The man sued the app, claiming it contained a faulty product.
But on Feb. 21, the court is scheduled to hear the Gonzalez v. Google case, brought by the family of an American killed in Paris in an attack by Islamic State supporters. In their lawsuit, the family said Section 230 should not protect YouTube from claims that the video site supported terrorism when its algorithms recommended Islamic State videos to users. The lawsuit argues that the recommendations can count as 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 question about when platforms are legally responsible for supporting terrorism under federal law.