Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to decide whether Section 230 immunity protects online platforms from liability if they rely on algorithms to make targeted recommendations. Many Section 230 defenders feared that the court would be eager to overturn the protections of the law and feared that the worst-case scenario, the Supreme Court, could doom the Internet as we know it. However, it became clear that the judiciary had become increasingly concerned about the potential far-reaching economic implications of a decision that could lead to a collapse of the digital economy or an avalanche of lawsuits over targeted recommendations.
the case in court, Gonzalez vs Google, specifically asking whether Google should be held liable for the alleged violation of federal laws prohibiting aiding and abetting a terrorist organization by making targeted recommendations promoting ISIS videos to YouTube users. If the court decides that Section 230 immunity does not apply, that single decision could impact how all online platforms recommend and organize content, argued Google and many others.
“Congress was aware that Section 230 protects the ability of online services to organize content,” Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado told Ars in a statement. “Undermining these safeguards would fundamentally change the way the internet works, making it less open, less secure and less helpful.”
Legal experts who attended the proceedings said they were far more optimistic that would not happen, largely because the Supreme Court’s questions focused almost exclusively on what the law currently says, rather than other legal issues such as Section 230 protecting online speech. Santa Clara University School of Law professor Eric Goldman – who in this case filed one of dozens of briefs in support of Google – told a panel today that because the judges appeared to understand the full scope of what was going on in the case is at stake, “there is reason to be optimistic that Google is likely to prevail.”
However, everything is still up in the air. Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear hearings in a similar case, Taamneh vs TwitterGoldman warned could influence the court’s decision Gonzalez vs Google in ways that experts cannot yet predict. It is possible that a decision in Taamneh vs Twitter could result in Google filing a motion to dismiss the Gonzalez case and giving the Gonzalez family an opportunity to file further appeals. It is likely that both cases will not be resolved until June, CNN reported.
SCOTUS appears both wary and confused
The hearings dragged on for over two and a half hours as the Supreme Court weighed the pros and cons of weakening Section 230. Attorney Eric Schnapper was arguing on behalf of the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who was killed in a 2015 Paris terrorist attack. His arguments at times seemed to deviate from the logic used in the Gonzalez family complaint, and this frequently confused some judges, who admittedly lacked expertise. At one point, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan indicated that the question before the court today may be better suited to Congress because the justices are not “the nine greatest experts on the internet.” Kagan and others remained cautious about disrupting the Internet, contending that Schnapper’s argument could create a future where a line is drawn and Section 230 protections ultimately apply to nothing.
“The line drawing problems are real,” Schnapper told the court. “No one downplays that.”
After Schnapper opened the case, US Assistant Attorney General Malcolm Stewart argued on behalf of the Justice Department, which partially supports the plaintiffs in the case. Stewart told the court that online platforms should be held liable for design decisions they make that break the law. During the oral arguments, extreme hypotheses were considered, such as: B. A platform intentionally developing an algorithm to promote terrorist content. Google’s attorney, Lisa Blatt, received some backlash when she argued that Section 230 immunity would apply in this extremely hypothetical case.
When Judge Brett Kavanagh suggested that this could lead to many more lawsuits, Stewart disagreed that tech companies were being buried by complaints. Stewart said he “wouldn’t necessarily agree that there would be many lawsuits” because most negligence lawsuits would likely be dismissed easily at the liability stage — before Section 230 questions come into play.
Blatt defended Section 230 as a critical protection for online platforms, saying weakening to maintain that standard would mean “death by 1,000 cuts” if global tech companies and smaller platforms were suddenly forced to make business decisions based on the negligence laws of 50 different states.