Section 230 has been all over the internet since the case of ‘Gonzalez vs. Google’ was taken up by the US supreme court. While several predictions are made by the experts, the CEO of HashCash Consultants, Raj Chowdhury says it’s not practical to revoke section 230. Before delving into the details, let’s take a quick look at what suddenly brought up section 230, and why it is a threat to major tech companies.
What Happened to Nohemi Gonzalez? Why is It Against Google?
The first generation Mexican American from California, 23yr old Nohemi Gonzalez was one of the 17,000 Americans studying in France. On a Friday night, she went to a popular Paris bistro with her friends to have a meal. A terrorist attack killed her along with 128 other people in the cafe. While the world felt her loss, social media played an active role in the attack.
Since July 2015, YouTube was recommending videos of the Islamic State Group encouraging violence, and recruiting followers. The objective of these videos was to “fill Paris streets with dead bodies”.
The parents of Nohemi Gonzalez filed a case against the parent company of YouTube, “Google” and the case will be presented in court in 2023. On the basis of the Antiterrorism Act, the plaintiffs are planning to prove that with the help of youtube, ISIS received material support to conduct the horrifying terrorist attack in Paris in 2015 that led to the death of Nohemi Gonzalez.
While there were similar lawsuits against airlines, charities, banks, and governments before, Google has convinced the lower courts that even if it did aid terrorism, it is immune as it is an internet company protected by Section 230.
Why is Section 230 Controversial?
In 1996, a law was formed to protect emerging internet service providers from defamation and major lawsuits under the Communication Decency Act.
There are two main parts of section 230, first, it protects the internet platforms from the major liabilities for user content. Like the Stanford professor says, in this section of 230, if someone defames you on a social platform, you can sue that person and not the tech company. This is one of the major parts of the Communication Decency Act.
There is another part of the section where it protects and powers the platform can take down any user or their content while the user cannot sue them. Section 230 is controversial as in the age of growing discontent and anger toward content modification of social platforms the law sides with the big tech companies.
This is a huge issue, as the platform must take charge of all the wrong activities it promotes around the world, which leads to terrorist attacks, misinformation, and many more.
Section 230 Provides Protection to Freedom of Speech
HashCash CEO Raj Chowdhury says, “The major role of Section 230, Communication Decency Act is to protect the freedom of speech for users. If every user’s content is validated by companies to avoid lawsuits, the platforms will be more risk-averse on allowing what content to post on social media platforms”.
He further states, “if section 230 is revoked, the freedom of speech is at risk. It is impossible to implement the task, and even if it is modified, it won’t work in the long run. Section 230 is here to stay”.
The main aspect of Section 230 is not to protect social platforms but to protect the freedom of speech. If the law is removed, the platforms will face liabilities for the user content and take down more content to avoid lawsuits. People are worried about hate speech, and medical and political misinformation, which are already protected under the first amendment. This is the major reason, the platforms do not go through any liabilities. Even if section 230 is pulled off, it is impossible to sue the tech companies.
Since the plaintiffs want to sue Google for recommending ISIS videos on YouTube the major question is, are the platforms still immune to section 230? Recommendations work on Google algorithms, When you search for something on the google search engine results page, it shows similar videos and content on your news feed. If the US Supreme court decides algorithms to not be a part of section 230 and takes a wider approach, it will change the entire mechanism of how social platforms work today. Thus, making the platforms take down more and more content.
What Happens Now?
2023 is predicted to be an eventful and interesting year for taking important decisions for social platform regulations. While what might happen can be difficult to guess, it is assumed that the internet will be very different in a few years than what it is today.