How the Supreme Court Could Reshape Social Media

(Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lawmakers in both parties have laid the groundwork in recent years to limit broad legal protections U.S. tech companies currently enjoy around content their users create. While those efforts continue, the Supreme Court could get the first bite of the apple.

A pair of cases on the court’s current docket, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh, question when tech giants can be held civilly liable for content posted to their platforms. In each case, the initial plaintiffs were American family members of people killed in terrorist acts abroad. They sued tech giants—Google in the former case; Google, Facebook, and Twitter in the latter—over allegedly permitting content supportive of terrorism to proliferate on their social media sites. 

Under existing case law, these would be open-and-shut cases under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The key provision of Section 230, which is often described as a statutory pillar of the modern internet, consists of 26 words: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In keeping with that provision, lower courts have long ruled that internet companies that host user-generated content can’t be held liable as accessories for crimes users used their platforms to commit. But these matters have never been litigated at the Supreme Court. Given the high court’s willingness to take up the cases—rather than allow existing jurisprudence to stand on its own—there’s reason to believe the conservative majority could chip away at existing protections for the tech giants. 

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