Will the Supreme Court Hold Tech Giants Liable?

Posted by Alyssa Bern.

Nohemi Gonzalez was only 23 years old when she was studying abroad in Paris during November 2015 when she was killed in a coordinated series of terrorist attacks. It was not long before her father sued Good and other tech companies for spreading content that “radicalized” users into “becoming terrorists”, which made them legally responsible for the harm inflicted on Gonzalez’s family (McCabe). It is this question that the Supreme Court will be dealing with Tuesday, February 21st, 2023. This is an important case because it takes aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which “shields online platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Google’s YouTube from lawsuits over content posted by their users or their decisions to take content down” (McCabe). This case has the potential to narrow how that legal shield is applied which is important because it can possibly open up the companies to liability for what users post. The article goes on to mention at the day after hearing this case that they will also here Twitter v. Taamneh, over whether Twitter has contributed to terrorism.

These possible rulings can change the framework of big tech companies to date. Being able to be held libel for what users post, will give them more of a reason to take down controversial posts. But doing that can open another issue of the first amendment. Do people have the right to post certain extremist things? Are the companies really libel? These decisions will ultimately decide how to regulate online speech. In other places, it is important to recognize that they have demanded these websites to take down dangerous posts, but in the United States, it is difficult because of the protections in the First Amendment. Continually, the article mentions Critics of Section 230 and how they say it lets companies avoid responsibility for harms facilitated on their watch but supports counter that saying that without the legal shield the companies will take more content down to avoid lawsuits, but that would hurt free expression. The rulings of these cases will undoubtedly have an impact on how these companies do business and how people interact with the internet.

When considering other lawsuits that dealt with Section 230 to see how these cases could possibly impact the decisions that the Supreme Court has to make. For example, in 2021 Snap the parent company of app Snap Chat could not use section 230 to dodge lawsuit after 3 people died after using a filter that displayed speech. With this case there seems to be almost a direct connection rather than the indirect that is mentioned in the previous cases, but there can still be some similarities seen. Further, it is interesting to ask the question of how these tech companies are so okay with banning certain people on a small scale like Donald Trump but have issues when they are being told other people are inciting violence and are not being taken down. Tech companies say it will be devastating if the Supreme Court Undercut Section 230 because it is crucial to allow internet to flourish, but at what cost?

Alyssa is a senior political science major at College of Arts and Sciences, Seton Hall University, Class of 2023.