Supreme Court Considering Cases to Determine Tenets of Online Speech

    Supreme Court Considering Cases to Determine Tenets of Online Speech
    Last updated Jan 20, 2023
    Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images


    • SCOTUS could consider cases that dramatically alter the rules governing online speech and the protections given to big tech platforms as, on Friday, it will discuss whether to hear two cases challenging Florida and Texas laws prohibiting platforms from censoring political speech.[1]
    • The cases center around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDS), enacted in 1996, which allows platforms to decide which content is allowed to be posted while also shielding platforms from liability if users' posts violate the law.[1]
    • The two cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh, are concerned with ISIS content that appeared on the respective social media platforms. The plaintiffs claim the tech companies are responsible for promoting content that led to acts of terrorism.[2]
    • SCOTUS has decided not to hear cases relating to Section 230 in recent years, but Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court should consider examining how the 1990s statute relates to current platforms. The court has agreed to hear the cases after a decision from the 9th Circuit was appealed.[3]
    • Politicians, specifically Republicans, have criticized Big Tech’s use of censorship, which they feel suppresses conservative voices. Two large tech trade groups petitioned SCOTUS over a 5th Circuit ruling that upheld Texas and Florida laws prohibiting censorship.[4]
    • Oral arguments for Gonzalez v. Google begin on Feb. 21, and the company last week released a response brief arguing that limiting or ending Section 230’s protections would force companies to censor more speech and reduce freedom on the internet.[5]


    Pro-establishment narrative

    Section 230 provides vital protections that allow private companies and their users to use the internet freely. Making tech companies responsible for their algorithms’ recommendations is a slippery slope that could end up making any company responsible for its users. Any alteration to Section 230 would cripple free speech and completely upend social media.

    Establishment-critical narrative

    Section 230 is a malevolent statute that allows the world’s most powerful corporations to hide behind a shield of immunity while they violate the rights of users. Big Tech platforms actively censor dissenting voices without even trying to hide it — they violate civil rights and deny the most basic right of all, freedom of speech.

    Establishment split