In what many tech observers see as a huge move, the Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on a rule that shields online platforms from being responsible for what users post.
According to Breitbart, the regulation at issue is a provision of the 1996 Communication Decency Act known as Section 230.
Rule permits platforms to act in “good faith”
While much of the Communication Decency Act was struck down on First Amendment grounds just a year after it was passed, Section 230 survived.
It holds that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher” or be held liable for posts made by users.
Section 230 permits also says platforms may act in “good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
As Breitbart noted, that protection was essential for the development of social media services that would otherwise be vulnerable to lawsuits.
Critics say companies use Section 230 to silence political dissent
However, critics say big tech firms have gone far beyond the scope of what Section 230 provides, and that by silencing users on political grounds they have effectively become publishers with an editorial agenda.
Fox News reported in 2020 that North Carolina Republican Rep. Ted Budd introduced a bill to strip companies of their Section 230 protection if they censored or suppressed political content.
“Recent acts of political censorship by Twitter and Facebook are a disgrace,” Budd was quoted as saying in a statement.
“Big Tech bias has gone too far in suffocating the voices of conservatives across our country. If these companies want to continue to receive legal protection, they should be forced to play by a fair set of rules in good faith,” he added.
No decision expected until June
Breitbart reported that this week’s case was brought by families of ISIS victims who claim that by recommending “ISIS videos to users, Google assists ISIS in spreading its message and thus provides material support to ISIS.”
Matt Schruers is head of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and he told Breitbart, “If this case alters federal law, companies are likely to respond in one of two ways to protect themselves legally.”
“Companies who could muster the resources would over-moderate everything, while others would throw up their hands and not moderate anything,” Schruers continued.
Breitbart noted that although oral arguments will be heard on Wednesday and Thursday, no decision is expected until June.