In 2021, a California state court dismissed a lawsuit by a feminist blogger accusing Twitter Inc. of illegally banning posts containing “hateful conduct” criticizing transgender people. In 2022, a California federal court dismissed a lawsuit by an LGBT plaintiff accusing YouTube, part of Alphabet Inc., of restricting content posted by gay and transgender people.
These lawsuits were among several that were struck by a powerful form of immunity contained in US law covering Internet companies. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 exempts platforms from legal liability for the content posted online by their users.
In a major case to be argued in the US Supreme Court on Tuesday, nine justices will address the scope of Section 230 for the first time. Legal experts said the dilutive ruling could expose Internet companies to litigation from all directions.
“There are going to be more lawsuits than there are atoms in the universe,” said Eric Goldman, a law professor at the University of Santa Clara Law School’s High Tech Law Institute.
Judge will hear arguments from the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old California woman shot and killed by ISIS terrorists in Paris in 2015, in a lower court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against YouTube owner Google LLC monetary damages, citing section 230. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet.
The family claimed that YouTube, through its computer algorithms, illegally recommends videos by the ISIS terrorist group, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, to some users.
Google briefed the justices that a ruling against the company could create a “litigation minefield.” According to the company and its supporters, such a decision could change the way the Internet works, make it less useful, curtail free speech, and hurt the economy.
They said this could jeopardize services as diverse as search engines, job listings, product reviews and the display of relevant news, songs or entertainment.
Section 230 protects “interactive computer services” by ensuring that they cannot be treated as “publishers or speakers” of information provided by users. Legal experts note that if the protections of Section 230 are curtailed, companies can employ other legal defenses.
There have been calls from across the ideological and political spectrum – including Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump – to reconsider Section 230 to ensure that companies can be held accountable. Biden’s administration urged the judges to revive the Gonzalez family’s lawsuit.
‘get out of jail’
Civil rights, gun control and other groups have told the judges that the platforms are fueling extremism and hate speech. Republican lawmakers have said the platforms stifle conservative viewpoints. A coalition of 26 states said social media firms no longer simply publish “user content,” they “actively exploit it.”
Adam Candube, a law professor at Michigan State University, said of Section 230, “It’s a big ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
The complaints against the companies varied. Some have targeted the way the platform moderates content by monetizing content, placing advertisements or removing or not removing certain content.
Legal claims often allege breach of contract, fraudulent business practices or violations of state anti-discrimination laws, including those based on political considerations.
“You can have a situation where two sides of a very contentious issue litigate in one forum,” said Scott Wilkens, an attorney with Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute.
Candub represented Meghan Murphy, a blogger and author on feminist issues who filed a lawsuit after she was banned from Twitter for posts criticizing transgender women. A California appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, citing Section 230, as it sought to hold Twitter liable for the content Murphy created.
A separate lawsuit by transgender YouTube channel creator Chase Ross and other plaintiffs alleges the video-sharing platform unlawfully restricted his content because of his identity, while allowing anti-LGBT slurs to remain. A judge blocked them citing section 230.
anti terrorism act
Gonzalez, who was studying in Paris, died when militants fired into a crowd at a bistro, killing 130 people.
A 2016 lawsuit by his mother Beatriz González, stepfather José Hernández and other relatives accused YouTube of providing “material support” to ISIS by recommending the group’s videos to certain users based on algorithmic predictions about their interests. Was. The lawsuit says the recommendations helped spread ISIS’s message and recruit jihadist fighters.
The lawsuit was brought under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets Americans recover damages related to “an act of international terrorism”. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco rejected it in 2021.
The company has drawn support from various technology businesses, scholars, legislators, libertarians and rights groups who are concerned that exposing platforms to liability will force them to remove content even at the hint of controversy, harming free speech. Will deliver
The company has defended its practices. Without algorithmic sorting, it said, “YouTube will post every video ever in an infinite sequence – the worst TV channel in the world.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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