The US Supreme Court has decided to review section 230 which provided immunity to online platforms from civil liabilities of their content for a long period of time. For years, giant social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have operated under two crucial tenets. The first is that the platforms have the power to decide what content to keep online and what to take down, free from government oversight. The second is that the websites cannot be held legally responsible for most of what their users post online, shielding the companies from lawsuits over libelous speech, extremist content, and real-world harm linked to their platforms.
Now, the Supreme Court is poised to reconsider those rules, potentially leading to the most significant reset of the doctrines governing online speech since U.S. officials and courts decided to apply few regulations to the web in the 1990s.
On Friday, the Supreme Court was expected to discuss whether to hear two cases that challenge laws in Texas and Florida barring online platforms from taking down certain political content. Next month, the court is scheduled to hear a case that questions Section 230, a 1996 statute that protects the platforms from liability for the content posted by their users.
These cases could eventually alter the hands-off legal position that the U.S. has largely taken toward online speech, potentially upending the businesses of TikTok, Twitter, Snap, and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.
The cases are part of a growing global battle over how to handle harmful speech online. In recent years, as Facebook and other sites attracted billions of users and became influential communications conduits, the power they wielded came under increasing scrutiny.
The Supreme Court case that challenges Section 230 of the Communications Act is likely to have many ripple effects. While newspapers and magazines can be sued over what they publish, Section 230 shields online platforms from lawsuits over most content posted by their users. It also protects platforms from lawsuits when they take down posts.