Oct 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court takes up case on Big Tech’s most important law

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3.

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Supreme Court decided Monday to take up a case that will test the immunity social media companies have from lawsuits over content posted by users.

Why it matters: The case appears to be the court's first test of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a controversial provision that shields online platforms from lawsuits over moderation practices and user-posted content.

  • Industry groups and supporters of Section 230 argue that its protections make it possible for website publishers and app services to use and moderate user-contributed content in ways that benefit their customers and society.

The big picture: The case, Reynaldo Gonzalez, et al v. Google LLC, alleges YouTube aided and abetted the killing of a 23-year-old American woman during the 2o15 ISIS attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured hundred more.

  • The plaintiffs, the surviving family members of Nohemi Gonzalez, allege Google "provided material support to ISIS" by allowing it to use YouTube "as a tool to commit terrorism."
  • Google has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the claims are barred under Section 230.
  • Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in an October 2020 filing that Section 230 should be narrowed, saying internet companies have been granted "sweeping protection" and that courts are reading more comprehensive immunity into Section 230 than was intended.

Thought bubble, via Axios' Ashley Gold: If the Supreme Court erodes Section 230 immunity, it could create a nightmare scenario not just for Big Tech but for anyone runs a website with user-generated content.

The big picture: Members of Congress in recent years have repeatedly tried to reform or repeal Section 230.

  • Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, typically claim Section 230 allows digital platforms to censor conservative views, while Democrats have argued it should be revisited to make tech companies more accountable for the proliferation of misinformation and hate speech.

Go deeper: Florida appeals to Supreme Court over controversial social media law

Go deeper