MarketWatch First Take: Get ready for ‘a proxy battle for the soul of the internet’ — Supreme Court’s next target could be the web’s most important law

by | Oct 3, 2022 | Stock Market

After overturning the right to an abortion earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s next target could be the most important law the U.S. has managed to enact regarding the internet. Justices agreed Monday to hear cases filed against Google parent Alphabet Inc.

and Twitter Inc.
in which the companies have been sued seeking redress for deaths resulting from terrorist attacks. In both cases, the companies are accused of helping terrorists spread their messages by allowing them to post content on their platforms. And in both cases, the tech giants have stated, as part of their defense, that the claims by the families of victims are barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which exempts companies from liability stemming from content posted by users on their platforms.

While the two cases are different, they have been tied together. Attorneys for Twitter argued in a petition to the Supreme Court that if the court decided to hear Gonzales v. Google, the court should also hear Twitter’s petition of an appellate ruling against it stemming from a 2017 shooting in a nightclub in Istanbul in which 39 people were killed. Now, the two cases will be added to the court’s calendar, which ends in June, when the rulings will be handed down. The potential results could be catastrophic. The entire functioning of the internet has been based on Section 230, the only major internet legislation that the U.S. has managed to enact over the past three decades. Section 230 provides protection for online platforms from both content and public comments, and is the basis for how the internet runs. While enabling a lot of free speech, within some bounds, Section 230 is also the basis for the business models of the most lucrative online properties. “This is the most immediate battle royal over the soul of Section 230, which is in turn a proxy battle for the soul of the internet,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and co-director of the High-Tech Law Institute. “Those who hate the internet are going to take full advantage of it. I am scared, and your readers should be scared.” Goldman fears that the court could narrow the protections of Section 230 to companies that host c …

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