This week, the Supreme Court will consider two cases that could have far-reaching implications for the responsibility of major social media platforms for content posted on their platforms. Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh will decide whether YouTube (a Google company) and Twitter can be held liable, respectively, for their roles in a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris and a 2017 terrorist attack in Turkey.
At issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which protects social media and other Internet companies from legal liability by preventing them from being held legally responsible for third-party content posted on their platforms. Tech companies have argued that a court ruling saying YouTube can be held liable would have disastrous consequences, resulting in over-restriction of content or none at all. On the other hand, the plaintiffs who sued Google argue that overbroad predictions of tech companies are unrelated to the case and that there is no denying that materials being promoted on social media sites have caused serious harm.
The Biden Administration has argued that the Supreme Court should narrow the scope of Section 230, making it easier to sue social media platforms. Supporters of the plaintiffs have also suggested that a ruling against Google could help social media platforms clean up algorithms that have resulted in harmful recommendations for minors.
However, Republicans have particularly taken aim at Section 230 and sought to hold social media companies more legally accountable, accusing them of chilling conservatives' speech. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led 11 GOP lawmakers in filing a brief arguing for the Supreme Court to narrow the scope of Section 230.
The outcome of the two cases, which will be decided by the end of June or early July, could have a major impact on the future of social media platforms, freedom of speech, and the regulation of content posted on the Internet. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will rule, and how this will affect the current debate around tech companies’ responsibility for content posted on their platforms.