US Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Gonzales vs Google
By: Michael L. Bergonzi
On February 21, the United States Supreme Court heard the first round of oral arguments in the case of Gonzales v Google. The case could affect the way companies like Google moderate content. At the heart of this legal battle is section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Enacted in 1996, the law gives the publisher or speaker immunity for the content they themselves did not post. If a user on Reddit posts something defamatory on Reddit's website, Reddit themselves aren't liable for damages as they aren't the publisher or speaker of the content. This is known as section 230(C)(1). "provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an 'interactive computer service' who publish information provided by third-party users: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Section 230(C)(2), summarized by the Harvard Business Review, "allows platforms to police their sites for harmful content, but it doesn’t require that they remove anything, and it protects them from liability if they choose not to."
Gonzales' family and their lawyers argue that Google acted as a speaker of content with their algorithms. Algorithms are everyday computer functions that process in the background that allow us to filter flights by a maximum layover time or sort a crockpot from cheapest to most expensive. In the case of Gonzales v Google, the problem Gonzales' family raises is that the recommendation of an ISIS recruitment video violated the anti-terrorism act.
The question, in so many words, is what law—Section 230 or the anti-terrorism act—should the Supreme Court justices go with in this case? Will they set a precedent that changes how the internet operates, or will they go with a more conservative approach?