Supreme Court To Hear Two Cases Regarding Section 230

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted information titled: “Section 230 is On Trial. Here’s What You Need to Know”. The EFF wrote about two court cases that involve Section 230.

According to EFF, the Supreme Court next week will hear two cases – Gonzalez v. Google on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and Twitter v. Taamneh on Wednesday, Feb. 22 – that could dramatically affect users’ speech rights online.

Nearly everyone who speaks online relies on Section 230, a 1996 law that promotes free speech online, the EFF wrote. Because users rely on online intermediaries as vehicles for their speech, they can communicate to large audiences without needing financial resources or technical know-how to distribute their own speech. Section 230 plays a critical role in enabling online by speech by generally ensuring that those intermediaries are not legally responsible for what is said by others.

The EFF pointed out that Section 230’s reach is broad: it protects users as well as small blogs and websites, giants like Twitter and Google, and any other service that provides a forum for others to express themselves online.

Courts have repeatedly ruled that Section 230 bars lawsuits against users and services for sharing, or hosting content created by others, whether by forwarding email, hosting online reviews, or reposting photos of videos that others find objectionable. Section 230 also protects the curation of online speech, giving intermediaries the legal breathing room to decide what type of user expression they will host and to take steps to moderate content as they see fit.

Vox reported that in 2015, individuals affiliated with the terrorist group ISIS conducted a wave of violence and mass murder in Paris – killing 129 people. One of them was Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American student who died after ISIS assailants opened fire on the café where she and her friends were eating dinner.

Vox also reported that on New Year’s Day 2017, a gunman opened fire inside a nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people – including a Jordanian national named Nawras Alassaf who had several American relatives. ISIS also claimed responsibility for this act of mass murder.

According to Vox, Gonzalez’s and Alassaf’s families brought federal lawsuits pinning the blame for these attacks on some very unlikely defendants. In Gonzalez vs Google, Gonzalez’s survivors claim that tech giant Google should compensate them for the loss of their loved one. In a separate suit, Twitter v. Taamneh, Alassaf’s relatives make similar claims against Google, Twitter, and Facebook.

Vox pointed out that the thrust of both of the lawsuits is that websites like Twitter, Facebook, or Google-owned YouTube are legally responsible for the two ISIS killings because ISIS was able to post recruitment videos and other content on these websites that were not immediately taken down.

In my opinion, there is no way to know for certain how the Supreme Court will decide on these cases. We are likely to have to wait a while before their decisions are posted publicly.