Supreme Court Rulings Should Prompt Congress To Pass Section 230 Reforms

May 23, 2023 CEP Staff

(New York, N.Y.) — The rulings issued last week by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter Inc. v. Taamneh allowed an overly broad interpretation of the liability shield in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to stand, affording tech companies a reprieve from legal liability for its inability to curb the spread of terrorist content on their platforms. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and CEP senior advisor Dr. Hany Farid had filed an amicus curiae brief in Gonzalez arguing that Google’s recommendation algorithms are not “content-neutral” as the company maintains and that it “pushed ISIS videos onto the devices of terrorists” to monetize content.

During oral arguments and in the rulings themselves, however, the Court repeatedly emphasized that the responsibility to address questions over liability for platforms hosting extremist content lay with Congress, where urgency has been building to reform the 27-year-old law.

“These were disappointing but not unexpected rulings after the oral arguments,” Dr. Farid said. “The good news is that the Court did not uphold tech’s argument that it has blanket immunity under Section 230 and that momentum is building for legislative reform. Congress understands that it cannot punt this issue to the Court in hopes of a satisfactory resolution.”

In 2021, Dr. Farid and CEP supported the introduction of the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act (PADAA). The bill narrowly amends Section 230 and would lift the liability shield when an online platform knowingly or recklessly deploys recommendation algorithms to promote content that, among other things, is relevant to cases involving international terrorism.

As Dr. Farid told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in 2019, “modest changes to Section 230 would go a long way to forcing the technology sector to invest in more effective technological and human moderation. Despite years of public outcry and bad press, profits at Google and Facebook are up. Change will only happen when these companies are held financially responsible for their failure to create safe products that don’t lead to the disruption of our democratic elections, don’t lead to horrific violence against our citizens, don’t lead to allowing child predators to freely exploit children, and don’t lead to the daily abuse and marginalization of women and under-represented groups. Like every other industry, the technology sector should be held responsible when their products are unsafe and lead to real and measurable harm.”

To read the amicus curiae brief filed by CEP and Dr. Farid, please click here.                                                                                                                

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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