SCOTUS Hears Section 230 Arguments in Gonzalez v. Google

    SCOTUS Hears Section 230 Arguments in Gonzalez v. Google
    Last updated Feb 21, 2023
    Image credit: nytimes


    • SCOTUS on Tuesday heard arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, the first time the court has heard a case challenging the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which has been upheld in the lower courts.[1]
    • Gonzalez v. Google was brought by the family of 23-year-old American college student Nohemi Gonzalez who was killed in the 2015 ISIS terror attack in Paris. Gonzalez’ parents allege that YouTube — which is owned by Google — is liable for damages because its algorithms violated US terrorism laws by recommending videos the terrorists found helpful.[2]
    • As automated advertising represents a large segment of revenues for the companies facing the suit, the result may make a significant dent into their earnings. In 2022, Google's ad revenue totaled $168B.[3]
    • Online platforms have so far successfully avoided lawsuits with the use of Section 230, including in 2016 when Google had Gonzalez’s parents' civil lawsuit dismissed by a federal district court. The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit later affirmed the decision before the family asked SCOTUS to weigh in, which it agreed to do last October.[4]
    • Section 230 has come under attack from diverse political angles, with Republicans claiming that online companies disproportionately censor conservatives, while Democrats argue that companies operating platforms online should be more active in censoring misinformation and hate speech. However, congressional efforts to reform Section 230 have stalled, leaving the courts to step in.[5]
    • SCOTUS is also set to hear Twitter v. Taamneh, which focuses on whether social media companies can be sued for aiding and abetting terrorism by allowing users to post support for terrorist groups. The case was brought by the family of a victim killed in a 2017 ISIS attack in Istanbul.[6]


    Narrative A

    Section 230 offers a vital protection that has facilitated the tremendous innovation we’ve seen in online platforms over the past two decades. Without it, companies would be unable to provide the user experience, recommendations, and economic opportunities currently afforded to people around the world. The loss of such legislation would cause irreparable damage to the sector and come at a huge cost to internet users globally.

    Narrative B

    When Section 230 was first created in 1996, its creators could have never envisioned the behemoth social media would become in the lives of millions around the world. Big Social Media companies represent some of the largest and most influential corporate entities in the world and, with that much power, comes proportionate responsibility. Companies like Google can shape the psyche and actions of the population — there must be greater accountability and regulation in the online world.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 43% chance that Section 230 will be revoked or amended by January 20, 2025, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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