After striking down abortion rights earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s next target may be the most important internet law the United States has ever passed.
On Monday, the judges ruled that Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. They agreed to consider the cases filed against GOOGL.
and Twitter Inc. TWTR,
companies have been sued for compensation for victims of terrorist attacks. In both cases, the companies are accused of helping terrorists spread their message by allowing them to post content on their platforms. And in both cases, the tech giants said as part of their defense that claims by victims’ families are barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which exempts companies from liability arising from content posted by users. their platforms.
Although the two cases are different, they are related. In a Supreme Court filing, Twitter’s attorneys argued that if the court decides to hear Gonzalez’s case against Google, the court would have to deal with Twitter’s lawsuit against him stemming from the 2017 Istanbul nightclub shooting that killed 39 people. he should also consider his petition on the appeal decision. they were killed. These two cases will now be added to the court’s calendar, and the case will conclude in June, when decisions will be made.
The potential consequences can be catastrophic. The entire operation of the Internet is based on Section 230, the only major Internet legislation the United States has been able to pass in the last three decades. Section 230 protects online platforms from both content and public comment and is fundamental to how the internet works. In addition to providing a lot of freedom of speech within certain limits, section 230 is also the basis for the business models of the most profitable online properties.
“This is the most urgent battle royale over the soul of Section 230, which in turn is a proxy battle for the soul of the Internet,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and co-director of the Graduate School. – Institute of Technical Law. “Internet haters will take full advantage of this. I’m scared, and so should your readers.”
Goldman fears the court could limit Section 230 protections to companies that own uncurated content, such as Apple Inc.’s AAPL.
iCloud or Dropbox Inc. DBX,
This would mean that platforms like Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook META,
or Google’s YouTube may be responsible for statements made by users on those websites. Media companies such as News Corp.’s NWS,
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“The Supreme Court could say that’s the only thing that qualifies (for protection), dumb lockers, and any other services with user-generated content don’t,” he said. “It’s going to fundamentally change the internet.”
Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of “Twenty-Six Words That Made the Internet,” declined to hazard a guess as to how the justices might ultimately rule, but only to say that taking the case could mean a big verdict ahead.
“The Court may uphold the status quo, which is a very broad reading of past Section 230 cases by lower courts. Or you can have a more limited construction,” said Section 230. “This could have a major impact on internet laws, which is the first time they’ve interpreted Section 230.”
It was the increasingly politicized Supreme Court’s landmark case earlier this year that gave women abortion rights in all 50 states, Roe v. It might be the most impactful decision since he fired Wade. That decision was 5-4, with all five Republican-appointed justices voting to overturn. Justice Clarence Thomas argued to his colleagues that they should consider a case involving Section 230.
“Justice Thomas was begging plaintiffs to bring their Section 230 cases to the Supreme Court,” Goldman said.
There have been some attempts in Congress to try to reform Section 230 or modify it so that tech companies don’t have such broad protection from lawsuits, but so far none of those efforts have come to fruition.
But just as the Supreme Court went against years of precedent to limit abortion rights, the justices could once again dramatically change the status quo in the US by ruling on these two cases.