Islamic State gunmen killed American college student Noemi Gonzalez as she sat with friends in a bistro in Paris in 2015, one of the several attacks on a Friday night in the French capital that left 130 people dead. Her family’s lawsuit claiming YouTube’s recommendations helped the Islamic State terror group’s recruitment is at the center of a closely watched SC case being argued on Tuesday about how broadly a law written in 1996 shields tech companies from liability.
The law known as Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, is credited with helping create today’s internet. It states that “ no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as publisher “or held responsible for the content that came from an outside party. A related case, set for arguments Wednesday, involves a terrorist attack at a club in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2017 that killed 39 people & prompted a suit against Twitter, Facebook & Google, which owns Youtube.
The tech industry is facing criticism from the left for not doing enough to remove harmful content from the internet & from the right for censoring conservative speech. Now, the court is poised to take its first hard look at online legal protections. A win for Gonzalez’s family could wreak havoc on the internet, say Google & its allies. Yelp, Reddit, Microsoft Craigslist, Twitter & Facebook are among the firms warning that searches for jobs, restaurants & merchandise could be restricted if those platforms had to worry about being sued over the recommendations they provide & their users want.
“Section 230 underpins a lot of aspects of the open internet”, said Neil Mohan, who was just named senior VP & head of YouTube.
Gonzalez’s family argues that the lower court’s industry-friendly interpretation of the law hamade it too difficult to hold Big Tech companies accountable. Freed from the prospect of being sued, firms have no incentive to act responsibly, critics say. They are urging the court to say that firms can be sued in some instances.
The legal arguments have nothing to do with what happened in Paris. Instead, they turn on the reading of the law.
The law’s basic purpose was “ to protect the internet platform’s ability to publish & present user-generated content in real-time, & to encourage them to screen & remove illegal or offensive content”, its authors wrote in Ina Supreme Court filing.
Groups supporting the Gonzalez family say companies have not done nearly enough to control content in the areas of child sexual abuse, revenge porn & terrorism, especially in curbing computer algorithms’ recommendation of that content to users. They also say that courts have read the law too broadly. Google & its supporters argue that even a narrow ruling for the family would have far-reaching effects. In the two hearings, the judges will listen to arguments brought by families of the victims of jihadi attacks who accuse Google & Twitter of having “ helped” the perpetrators, IS, by publishing its propaganda.