Supreme Court ruling challenging online content moderation rules could ‘upend internet’, Google says

A US Supreme Court hearing that challenges the liability shield protecting Big Tech companies like YouTube and Facebook could “upend the internet” and cause it to descend into a “litigation minefield”, according to Google.

Next month, the Supreme Court is set to initiate its hearing on Reynaldo Gonzalez v Google.

The case was filed by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez who was killed in the 2015 Isis terrorist attack in Paris and centred around section 230 of the 1996 US Communications Decency Act.

A brief section of this law has partly kept tech companies from being liable for content people post on social media platforms.

Plaintiffs in the case have argued that section 230 shouldn’t protect social media platforms when they recommend harmful content like terrorist videos.

“Application of section 230 to such recommendations removes all civil liability incentives for interactive computer services to eschew recommending such harmful materials, and denies redress to victims who could have shown that those recommendations had caused their injuries, or the deaths of their loved ones,” the Gonzalez family’s attorneys argued in April last year.

“If YouTube were to write on its home page, or on the home page of a user, ‘YouTube strongly recommends that you watch this video,’ that obviously would not be information provided by another information content provider,” the petitioners noted in November in a brief.

Google, however, said in its latest filing that its company YouTube “abhors terrorism and over the years has taken increasingly effective actions to remove terrorist and other potentially harmful content”.

In a court filing on Thursday, the tech giant said scaling back the liability shields may cause companies to be more forceful in their approach to content moderation, blocking potentially offensive content such as controversial political speech.

“Gutting Section 230(c)(1), as these amici urge, would upend the internet and perversely encourage both wide-ranging suppression of speech and the proliferation of more offensive speech,” said the tech giant in its filing.

Section 230, according to Google, is the “economic backbone” of the internet.

The company argued in its filing that without liability protection, internet companies may be forced to remove “legal but controversial speech on some websites and lead other websites to close their eyes to harmful or even illegal content”.

Without the section providing protection, Google said internet platforms may begin adopting a “see-no-evil approach” with the internet descending into a “disorganized mess and a litigation minefield”.

US president Joe Biden and several other lawmakers have also called for modifying section 230 to address flaws in the law, and several states in the US, including Texas, Florida and California, have also been wrangling with social media content moderation laws for different reasons.

“This Court should decline to adopt novel and untested theories that risk transforming today’s internet into a forced choice between overly curated mainstream sites or fringe sites flooded with objectionable content,” said the tech giant which is set for giving its oral arguments before the Supreme Court on 21 February.


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