After striking down abortion rights earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s next target may be the most important law the United States has ever passed regarding the internet.
Judges agreed on Monday to hear cases filed against Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. GOOGL,
and Twitter Inc. TWTR,
in which companies have been sued for compensation for deaths resulting from terrorist attacks. In both cases, the companies are accused of helping terrorists spread their messages by allowing them to post content on their platforms. And in both cases, the tech giants said in their defense that claims by victims’ families are barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which exempts the companies from liability arising from content posted by users on their platforms.
Although the two cases are different, they have been linked. Twitter’s attorneys argued in a Supreme Court petition that if the court decides to hear Gonzales v. Google, the court should also hear Twitter’s motion for an appeal ruling against him stemming from a shooting in 2017 in a nightclub in Istanbul in which 39 people were killed. Now both cases will be added to the court’s schedule, which ends in June, when the decisions are handed down.
The potential results could be catastrophic. The entire operation of the Internet relies on Section 230, the only major Internet legislation the United States has managed to enact in the past three decades. Section 230 protects online platforms from public content and comment, and is the basis for the operation of the Internet. While allowing for a great deal of freedom of expression, within certain limits, Section 230 is also the basis for the business models of the most lucrative online properties.
“This is the most immediate battle royale over the soul of Section 230, which in turn is a proxy battle for the soul of the internet,” said law school professor Eric Goldman. of Santa Clara University and co-director of the High -Tech Law Institute. “Internet haters are going to take full advantage of it. I’m scared, and your readers should be scared.
Goldman fears the court will limit Section 230 protections to companies that host uncurated content, such as Apple Inc.’s AAPL,
iCloud or Dropbox Inc. DBX,
This would mean that platforms such as Facebook META from Meta Platforms Inc.,
or Google’s YouTube may be held responsible for statements made by users on such websites. The same goes for media companies, like News Corp.’s NWS,
MarketWatch, which could potentially face legal consequences for comments made by users under this article, and all others on its website.
“The Supreme Court could say that’s the only thing that qualifies (for protection) is stupid storage lockers, and any other service with user-generated content wouldn’t,” a- he declared. “It would radically reshape the internet.”
Jeff Kosseff, associate professor of cybersecurity law at the US Naval Academy and author of the book “The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet”, did not want to venture a guess as to how the judges might possibly rule, but the ‘did. saying that just taking over the case could mean a huge decision ahead.
“The court could uphold the status quo, which is how lower courts, on a very broad reading of past Section 230 cases, have proceeded. Or you could also have a much more limited build,” of Section 230, he said. “This could have a huge impact on internet law, this is the first time they’ve interpreted section 230.”
It could be the most impactful decision since the increasingly politicized Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the groundbreaking case that granted women the right to abortion in all 50 states. That decision was 5-4, with all five Republican-appointed justices voting to overturn it. Judge Clarence Thomas argued to his colleagues that they should take up a case involving Section 230.
“Judge Thomas pleaded with the plaintiffs to take Section 230 cases to the Supreme Court,” Goldman said.
There have been a few attempts in Congress to try to reform Section 230, or tweak it slightly so that tech companies don’t have such broad litigation protections, but so far none of those attempts have worked. yielded.
But just as the Supreme Court has gone against years of precedent to limit the right to abortion, the justices could again radically change the status quo in the United States with a decision in these two cases.
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