The fate of speech on the internet is in the hands of the Supreme Court when it decides Gonzalez v. Google — a case that puts Section 230 protections for websites, platforms, and applications on trial. Misinterpreting this critical protection will destroy the internet as we know it. A ruling in favor of Google to uphold Section 230, is in the best interests of the American people.
Eliminating Section 230 would make it harder for platforms to remove hate speech, violence, conspiracy videos, and other harmful content online. In fact, the law was created to encourage websites to remove the horrible content most of us don’t want to see.
Section 230 protections have been a target of both the Left and the Right — proponents on both sides have called to eliminate Section 230 protections for social media platforms. Such calls are misguided and are rooted in a misunderstanding of what Section 230 is and the repercussions of “scrapping Section 230.”
The ability of social media companies to remove content they find “objectionable” is critical to keeping the internet from becoming a cesspool of ‘lawful but awful’ content. Websites that focus on family-friendly content, like YouTube, KidsReads, or Common Sense Media engage aggressively in content moderation — and that is a good thing. If Section 230 were repealed then what parents fear most would come to fruition: an increase in hate speech, violence, conspiracy videos, and other harmful content online. Be careful what you wish for.
Elon Musk’s Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and others regularly exercise their company’s right to remove content by barring the accounts of pedophiles, for example. If SCOTUS ends the “good samaritan” provision — a.k.a. Section 230 — prudent actions like these would be virtually impossible.
But that’s exactly what is at stake in Gonzalez v. Google.
In Gonzalez v. Google, the Supreme Court will decide whether Section 230 protects Google when YouTube shows users controversial content based on those users’ interests. The plaintiff, Gonzalez, argues that because Google organized (but did not create) the content, Google should be treated as the content’s creator and thus held responsible for every website in the search results.
In other words, the plaintiffs’ view would be akin to holding Barnes & Noble responsible for the contents of every book it sells. If that view were accepted, Barnes & Noble would be considered liable for the books it sells — and thus would sell few, if any. After all, it’s neither reasonable nor logical to task employees with reading and fact-checking every single word, on every single page, in every single book.
If the Court determines that Google is legally responsible for third-party content shown to users, all online websites with interactive features will be at risk of endless lawsuits against basic operations. Each decision to host or show content — controversial or mundane — could mean millions of dollars in legal fees. The result will be that websites will strip their sites of all but the most straightforward and inoffensive content. That means less content of all types, including politics, art, social critiques or religious content online. In short, it means less speech.
That’s a best-case scenario. For most sites, however, the potential costs of these cases are so immediately ruinous that they would likely have to stop carrying all our content. In other words, if Google loses this case, we will wake-up to a world with much less speech online. The bottom-line is that when the Supreme Court hands down its decision, it will affect the way you use the internet.
Because of the internet, never before in history have so many of us had a voice. Let’s hope the Supreme Court doesn’t take it away.
Carl Szabo is Vice President and General Counsel for NetChoice, and Professor of Internet Law at the George Mason Antonin Scalia Law School.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.