Supreme Court takes up challenge to Section 230, with potential to change internet hosting rules

WASHINGTON, DC- A long-standing internet precedent, is now under fire.

Two new cases on the Supreme Court’s docket this term are both taking aim at Section 230 of the Telecom act of 1996.

Gonzalez v. Google is looking to overturn the precedent that says internet companies can’t be held responsible for the content that users upload.

“Section 230 says ‘If you come into my website and start posting hateful content and things that rub people the wrong way I’m not held liable,'” said Salisbury University Communications Professor Jeremy Cox.

“These companies are both purveyors and producers of information and it is in that fine grey line where the debate is at,” said Constitutional Law Professor at DSU Dr. Sam Hoff.

Dr. Hoff tells 47ABC the new cases focus on ISIS terrorist videos that were hosted on youtube, and was brought by the family of a woman killed in a 2015 ISIS attack. The suit argues that the site failed to act.

“Her estate sued to say, youtube had essentially allowed for the promotion of it and that the algorithms supported terrorism as a result,” Dr. Hoff said.

He says the lawsuit argues that the recommended tab algorithm has the ability to promote terrorism and that the companies are responsible for hosting the content.

Many websites including Facebook, Instagram, and youtube have a Terms of Service that users agree to, as well as moderation teams that help to scrub the platforms of illicit content such as child pornography, animal abuse, and graphic violence.

Dr. Hoff says he expects the companies to argue in favor of their first amendment rights to moderate their own content, and stress the extensive moderation that platforms routinely engage in.

“A lot of these companies have their own controls and have been successful and they don’t need to be browbeaten from the outside to deal with this,” Dr. Hoff said.

Hoff says he believes the court could mandate tougher moderation of content, but that’s not realistic for many websites.

“Sites like Wikipedia that is all voluntary submission of info, folks might be scared that they are not immune from prosecution, this could be the death knell of smaller social media sites,” he said.

Dr. Hoff tells 47ABC he believes the conservative majority on the court will side with the private companies’ right to moderate their own content, but he says he expects tighter controls on what kind of moderation is required moving forward.





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