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SCOTUS Rulings and Their Influence on the Internet

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v Google provided no significant changes to the interpretation or understanding of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For now, the court decided not to reexamine the long-established law.

Though calls for Congress to address content moderation have grown louder, Democrats and Republicans have put forth conflicting approaches. The Bipartisan Policy Center filed an amicus brief arguing that bipartisan compromises can be reached to address harmful or illegal content online and that Congress is best suited to deliberate any potential changes to Section 230. Two other cases concerning legislation in Texas and Florida are pending the court’s solicitors’ review to grant cert, which, if it happens, would be in the Fall of 2023 if it did happen. Below are key excerpts from the opinions issued in Twitter and Gonzalez. These quotes present the intricate nature of the internet and the intersectionality of laws governing our online ecosystem.

From Twitter v. Taamneh

  • On the liability of communications providers in aiding and abetting terrorist acts: “it might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms like defendants’ for illegal—and sometimes terrible—ends. But the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally. Yet, we generally do not think that internet or cell service providers incur culpability merely for providing their services to the public writ large. Nor do we think that such providers would normally be described as aiding and abetting, for example, illegal drug deals brokered over cell phones—even if the provider’s conference-call or video-call features made the sale easier.”
  • On the role of algorithms in aiding and providing substantial assistance to terrorist act: “presented here, the algorithms appear agnostic as to the nature of the content, matching any content (including ISIS’ content) with any user who is more likely to view that content… Once the platform and sorting-tool algorithms were up and running, defendants at most allegedly stood back and watched; they are not alleged to have taken any further action with respect to ISIS.”
  • Recognizing the scale of content published on online platforms: “It appears that for every minute of the day, approximately 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 510,000 comments are posted on Facebook, and 347,000 tweets are sent on Twitter.”
  • Justice Jackson, concurring opinion: “Both cases came to this Court at the motion- to-dismiss stage, with no factual record. And the Court’s view of the facts—including its characterizations of the social-media platforms and algorithms at issue—properly rests on the particular allegations in those complaints. Other cases presenting different allegations and different records may lead to different conclusions.”

From Gonzalez v Google

  • On the significance of Section 230 in this case: “it has become clear that plaintiffs’ complaint—independent of §230—states little if any claim for relief. As plaintiffs concede, the allegations underlying their secondary-liability claims are materially identical to those at issue in Twitter.”
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