ICYMI: Section 230 Should Not Protect Companies From Negligent Product Design

(New York, N.Y.) — As the U.S. Supreme Court considers questions about liability shields under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, UC Berkeley professor and CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid co-authored an op-ed published by Wired on Monday that said tech platforms, such as Google-owned YouTube, should not be shielded from liability for the effects of their harmful product. Oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, which questions whether Google is shielded from claims extending from the death of an American college student in an ISIS attack after YouTube recommended ISIS videos to the attacker through its algorithms, concluded last month.

Dr. Farid and his co-author, Dr. Brandie Nonnecke, assert that YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are negligently designed and urge the Court to consider that “features like YouTube's Watch Next and Recommended for You … materially contribute to harm because they prioritize outrageous and sensational material, and they encourage and monetarily reward users for creating such content. YouTube designed its recommendation features to increase user engagement and ad revenue. The creators of this system should have known that it would encourage and promote harmful behavior.”

Prior to the op-ed in Wired, Dr. Farid testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that “YouTube has argued that the recommendation algorithms are neutral.” However, “[If] YouTube can’t distinguish between a cat video and an ISIS video, they’ve negligently designed their recommendation engine.”

CEP and Dr. Farid filed an amicus brief supporting petitioners in Gonzalez, urging the court to reverse a favorable ruling for Google in the Ninth Circuit, which applied a broad interpretation of Section 230’s liability shield. The brief argues and cites public reporting and Google’s own statements 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.

To read the amicus curiae brief, please click here.

To read Drs. Farid and Nonnecke’s op-ed in Wired, “The Case for Regulating Platform Design,” please click here.

To watch Dr. Farid’s testimony at the hearing Platform Accountability: Gonzalez and Reform before the U.S. Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, 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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