Are Internet companies and platforms responsible for the content that is published in them? Since 1996, a US law has granted her immunity in this regard. However, violent incidents occurred around the world, not only in the United States, due to platform algorithms, accompanied by judicial complaints, prompting the court to reconsider the law.
On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court began its first two sessions to discuss a law that has protected technology companies from prosecution for content published by their users for more than a quarter of a century, and its decision may revolutionize the Internet.
This law, which has been in force since 1996, offers a kind of immunity to electronic platforms.
This case is related to the November 2015 attacks in Paris, as it stems from a complaint filed by the relatives of the American young woman, Noemi Gonzalez, who was killed along with 129 people in the terrorist attacks, against Google, the parent company of YouTube, in which they accuse her of supporting the emergence of the Islamic State by proposing Video clips on some users.
The plaintiffs say that “by suggesting videos of the Islamic State group to its users, Google (YouTube) helped the group spread its messages and thus provided it with material support.”
The ordinary courts had previously rejected this complaint, citing Section 230 (Section 230) of a law that was passed when the Internet sector was still in its infancy and has since become one of its foundations.
The problematic law stipulates that companies in the technology sector cannot be considered “content editors” and thus enjoy legal immunity over content broadcasted on their platforms.
However, in the complaint of Gonzalez’s relatives to the Supreme Court, they considered that Google is not a “content editor” protected by law, as it “recommended” the preview of ISIS videos through its algorithms.
They explained that “users who were suggested to watch videos of the Islamic State group were selected through algorithms created and managed by YouTube.”
Worried about the fate of freedom of expression?
By agreeing to hear the case, despite rejecting most of the cases presented, the Supreme Court signaled that it was willing to change its jurisprudence. However, this possibility worries the parties active in this sector.
- Google wrote to the court saying “the recommendations made by the algorithms allow finding needles in the largest haystack of humanity” and asking it “not to impair a central part of the modern internet”.
- For its part, the “Meta” group, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, warned in a document addressed to the court against “exposing Internet services to prosecutions due to recommendations that will make them subject to continuous complaints.” According to it, the recommendations are only used to curate content posted online, denying that this is the result of editorial work.
On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court will hold a second hearing in a related filing that raises a different legal question: If Section 230 did not exist, could platforms be convicted under counterterrorism laws, even if they did not provide direct support for an attack?
The court is expected to issue its decision before June 30.
- In the past, many Supreme Court justices have expressed their desire to amend the reading of Title 230, which is increasingly controversial in the political arena, even if partisan divisions prevented any legislative development.
- In 2021, Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas lamented that “the courts have interpreted the law too broadly and granted too broad immunity to some of the largest companies in the world.”
So it seems likely that the Supreme Court will move things along faster than Congress. But right now, “no one knows exactly which way to go,” said Tom Wheeler, an expert at the Brookings Institution think tank.