Social Media Company Liability Draws Supreme Court Scrutiny

From Bloomberg:

The US Supreme Court will decide whether social media companies can be sued for hosting and recommending terrorist content, taking up two cases that challenge their liability protections.

The cases mark the court’s first test of the broad immunity social media companies have enjoyed under a provision known as Section 230, part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Section 230 has become a target of conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, who say it lets left-leaning tech companies censor right-wing voices.

In one case, Alphabet Inc.’s Google is trying to defeat a suit involving Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old US citizen who was among 129 people killed in coordinated ISIS attacks in Paris in November 2015. Gonzalez’s family says Google’s YouTube service, through its algorithms, violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by recommending the terrorist group’s videos to other users.

Courts have interpreted Section 230 as immunizing computer services when they are engaged in activities traditionally performed by publishers, such as deciding whether to display or edit third-party content. But Gonzalez’s family says recommendations are a different matter.

. . . .

“Whether Section 230 applies to these algorithm-generated recommendations is of enormous practical importance,” the family argued in the appeal. “Interactive computer services constantly direct such recommendations, in one form or another, at virtually every adult and child in the United States who uses social media.”

Google says YouTube at the time of the attack used a sidebar tool to queue up videos based on user inputs including browsing history. The company says the only alleged link between the Paris attacker and YouTube was that one attacker was an active user of the video-sharing service and once appeared in an ISIS propaganda video.

“This court should not lightly adopt a reading of section 230 that would threaten the basic organizational decisions of the modern internet,” Google argued.

Two lower courts, including the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, sided with Google and said the lawsuit should be dismissed.

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a related appeal by Twitter Inc. in a case stemming from a 2017 terrorist shooting in an Istanbul nightclub. In same ruling that absolved Google for the Paris attacks, the appeals court said Twitter, Google and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook had to face claims that they played a role in the Istanbul attack by failing to identify and remove ISIS materials.

Twitter contends the appeals court improperly expanded the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Act by letting the suit go forward. 

. . . .

In May 2020, the Supreme Court declined to address a similar case, turning down an appeal on whether Section 230 protected Facebook from a lawsuit brought by US citizens injured in terror attacks in Israel who alleged the social network promoted posts by terrorist group Hamas.

The US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit had ruled earlier that Section 230 barred the suit, but the chief judge of the court dissented, criticizing the extensive immunity courts have granted to internet companies and calling on Congress to amend the law.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG tends to come down on the side of free and open expression. He has particular concern about the sort of censorship the big tech platforms might engage in if they have to head down this path.

In the US at least a great many voices on the extreme left are inclined to cancel those whose opinions they dislike.

Not all slippery-slope objections survive reasonable examination, but given current social tendencies default to attacking the messenger and not just the message.

19 thoughts on “Social Media Company Liability Draws Supreme Court Scrutiny”

  1. “In the US at least a great many voices on the extreme left and the right are inclined to cancel those whose opinions they dislike.”

    There. I fixed your quote for you.

    • I’ve never yet seen or heard even one conservative person or group attempting to “cancel” anything. Not one.

      The conservative, upon seeing or hearing something s/he doesn’t like on television, simply changes the channel. The liberal socialist, on the other hand, demands the “offensive” content be taken down.

      The conservative, upon realizing a speaker with whom he disagrees is coming to town, simply doesn’t attend. The liberal socialist organizes violent protests and forces the venue to cancel the event.

      Finally, witness your own hubris in “correcting” someone else’s statement so it falls more in line with your own way of thinking. The statement wasn’t yours to correct.

      But you may take heart. The points above are exactly why conservatives and adherents to the Constitution are slowly losing this nation: They play by the rules and are largely averse to employing the hubris, innuendo, half-truths, and outright lies that are the standard currency of the left.

      I would welcome a side-by-side comparison of Thoughts and Actions Banned by the Right and Thoughts and Actions Banned by the Left.

      • Permit me to draw your attention to the massive ruckuses, primarily started by right-wingers, over whether certain books should be in libraries.

        Said books have ranged from the indefensible to the controversial to “why would anyone have a problem with this if they weren’t an obnoxious twerp?”

      • I suppose one could say the parents objecting to books in a school library are trying to cancel local student access. These would be books the school board objects to having read in public board meetings. It would appear to be a cooperative effort by left and right.

      • Harvey, you probably didn’t attend any school board meetings after the first few weeks of the 2001–02 school year in the non-urban Midwest. You probably didn’t have to put up with a future candidate for state Attorney General interrupting you twice with drivel about the unAmerican, deplorable lack of Christian virtue in your remarks.

        Or again in 2004–05. Three times. On incidents that later led to a teacher’s successful racial discrimination claim against the district (this time it was “Your liberal nonsense is undermining our values”).

        This is explicitly not an attempt to do anything other than anecdotally refute the implication that because you’ve “never yet seen or heard even one conservative person or group attempting to ‘cancel’ anything,” that sort of thing doesn’t happen. It does.

        • Sigh. C’mon man. No, of course I didn’t. I’m in southern Arizona. I couldn’t see past all the undocumented voters illegal aliens um, immigrants streaming across the border. (grin)

          But not to worry. I’m not stupid enough to think just because I personally haven’t seen or heard a conservative politicion or group attempting to ‘cancel’ anything that it never happens. Though I would caution anyone these days to be sure the offender WAS a conservative and not merely a republican. The terms are not synonymous.

          Anyway, such unfortunate but isolated examples as the ones you pointed out are exactly why I wrote that conservatives “are largely averse.” Not completely. Largely.

          Having wasted my time writing all of the above (and these thirteen words), I can tell you that none of this matters to me in any real way. It did once, but I believe the nation is on a downhill slide that can no longer be corrected or even slowed.

          Of course, I hope I’m wrong, but the next presidential election will tell the tale. I suspect if he receives as many as ten votes, Biden will be reelected.

          Well, unless he’s tossed under a bus by his own party in favor of someone who’s younger and coherent to the point he or she at least speaks in complete, focused sentences. Then that person will be elected. S/he’ll never know whether s/he was elected legally, but that won’t matter. All that matters to such people is being in power.

          The few who cared enough to speak out about the suspect vote-count in the previous election did so in the wrong place and in the wrong way. As a result, they are currently (and ironically) on trial for sedition by the very people they spoke-out against. Of course, it will be a fair trial (wink-wink).

          I do admit to a case of sour grapes. If I had it to do over again I would have skipped all that service-to-the-country bulls*it, gone to college early, studied a science, and made a ton of money for Myself.

          But hey, them’s the breaks.

          Oh, and going back and forth is fruitless, so just as a courtesy, I won’t comment again.

          • 1- Try “uninvited” as a term for the self-exiles from socialism showing up at the southern border. 😐

            2- Conservative and liberal used to be outlooks, not insults. There used to be both kinds in *both* parties. And outside them, too. Now they’re just another way to demonize those that don’t catter to your own biases. So no, not synonymous.

            3- I wouldn’t worry overmuch about the next presidential election. It’s a safe bet many of tbe gerontocracy won’t be able to run even if they wanted to. They’ll be lucky to be ambulatory by then. (Some folks don’t age well.)

            Besides, first we have to live through the next two years.

            • 1- Try “uninvited” as a term for the self-exiles from socialism showing up at the southern border.

              “Uninvited” sounds like a euphemism for bedbugs. Lacks dignity, sophistication, and sensitivity. How about if I just call them illegals?

              • There’s two types. illegals (yep) and asylum seekers. Arrivals from beyond Mexico are often fleeing repressive governments and violent social disorder and we offer them compassionate asylum. While awaiting their hearings they are in the country legally. This is the issue arising from Santorum’s plane load – the people who were promised transportation to Boston were not illegal arrivals, they were (and are) here completely legally. It is reasonably argued that this system is somewhat broken, but it’s a system and we have it, and it is duplicitous to conflate them with outright illegals.

      • I, too, have never seen conservatives cancel people, ideas, or things like: French fries (renamed by conservatives because France was opposed to the Iraq war in 2003). Kathy Griffin for her comedy Trump head. And also Michelle Wolf for her joke about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s penchant for lying about everything. Then there’s when Ohio Secretary of State tried to keep Jane Fonda from speaking at Kent State (because she’s a traitor). Colin Kaepernick (and Nike, for supporting him, pun intended), because a black person of mild renown dared to quietly kneel during the Jingoistic opening of every football game in which he played. Beyonce, after her Super Bowl half time show and music video about racist police killings and BLM (well, they tried anyway). Free speech for me and not for thee.

        Target, when they announced they wouldn’t discriminate against transgender customers using the bathroom. That one was fun, I even saw a nutter at my local Target get arrested for harassing people. NASCAR, for banning the traitor’s flag of the Confederacy at their events. Keurig, because they pulled their ads from Hannity after people complained about Hannity hosting an accused child zexual predator. But, all of this takes a backseat to Tucker Carlson’s tirade over the M&M Mars Corporation changing one of its fictional characters’s looks, removing the “sexy”—Tucker’s characterization, not mine— M&M’s high heels. Conservative cancel culture is a joke, and a bad one, at that.

  2. It’s great fun watching the Twitter employees and other media folks venting about Musk taking over twitter and allowing opinions that trigger them.

    • Or the more serious call from within the administration for a “ministry of truth?
      Is that amusing too?

      The twitter babies’ tantrums might by fun but AOC and co aren’t anywhere as amusing.
      Things are getting too Orwellian for my taste. Just because I like dystopian SF like RISSA KERGUELEN doesn’t mean I want to live in one. That fiction needs to stay fiction.
      Truth shouldn’t be for any party to define.

  3. I’m going to have to delete that Talkwalker alert. (grin)

    Everything in this nation would be fine if everyone would just remember one dictum: one’s rights stop where the next one’s rights begin. For just one example, I don’t care whether some biological male chooses to call himself a female. I do care that nobody listens to women who don’t want a biological male in their bathroom.

    As to the border situation, either uphold the law or repeal it. Don’t just ignore it in order to increase your voter rolls.

    What “offends” the left matters, and they’re always set to pounce on any reason, real or manufactured, to take offense. It can be anything from some fool like me saying, “Um, don’t all lives matter?” to pretty much any other utterance that isn’t strictly politically correct.

    Speaking of which, the most accurate definition I’ve heard of “political correctness” is “the erroneous belief that a [ahem, don’t want to offend anyone, bit of human defecation that is occasionally presented as floating in a punch bowl] can be picked up by the clean end.”

    In short, what offends the rest of us doesn’t matter in the slightest.

    • A rational outlook.

      Then there is this, which was “totally never real”.

      “PayPal drew widespread criticism over the weekend after the company published an update to its new user agreement that prohibited PayPal customers from using its service for activities identified by it as “sending, posting, or publication of any messages, content, or materials” promoting misinformation.

      “The policy update, which would have levied a penalty of $2,500 for each violation, “went out in error” and “included incorrect information,” a PayPal spokesperson said. ”


      • Much as I enjoy the Internet and the benefits it provides to those of us who aren’t out to control anyone, sometimes I really, really wish someone would kick the big plug out of the wall. I could quickly make up (or write off) my PayPal balance, but I wonder where that would leave PayPal itself and the millions of other companies and individuals who somehow feel entitled to levy “requirements” on the rest of us. A joy to ponder.

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