ACLU Warns of Harm to Free Speech Online if Supreme Court Dismantles Section 230

Amicus Brief Urges Court to Protect Online Platforms’ Ability to Host Robust Conversations and Diverse Communities

January 19, 2023 4:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California, and Daphne Keller of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center filed an amicus brief today, urging the Supreme Court to ensure online platforms are free to promote, demote, and recommend content without legal risk to protect political discourse, cultural development, and intellectual activity.

Google v. Gonzalez is the first Supreme Court case to consider the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes websites from legal liability for content provided by their users. This case was brought by family members of a U.S. citizen who was killed by ISIS in a 2015 terrorist attack. The suit alleges that Google’s YouTube is partially responsible for the attack, and cannot claim immunity because it mistakenly suggested that users view content ISIS operatives posted on the site.

As the ACLU’s amicus brief explains, platforms have no choice but to prioritize some content over others, and should be immune for those choices. “If the Court accepts plaintiffs’ theory, it will drive platforms both to censor lawful content and also to feature speech of little interest or value to users, including voter suppression material, disinformation and hate speech, contrary to the goals of Section 230,” the brief reads.

“Section 230 defines internet culture as we know it: It’s the reason why websites can offer platforms for critical and controversial speech without constantly worrying about getting sued,” said Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel with ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The Supreme Court should interpret Section 230 in a way that protects people’s ability to create, communicate, and build community online.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Google v. Gonzalez on Feb. 21, and a related case, Twitter v. Taamneh, on Feb. 22. The latter case asks the court to consider whether Twitter may be held liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” an ISIS attack in Istanbul because Twitter failed to adequately block or remove content promoting terrorism from its platform — even though it had no actual knowledge that a specific piece of user-generated content on its platform provided substantial assistance to a terrorist act.

Google v. Gonzalez is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

The brief is here: https://www.aclu.org/gonzalez-v-google-brief-american-civil-liberties-un…

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