Google at the Supreme Court
Google’s (GOOGL) general counsel will present its case to the US Supreme Court this week as the court debates whether tech companies are legally immune from the content published on their platforms.
The tech giant is being sued by the parents of 23-year-old American student Nohemi Gonzalez, who died in the 2015 ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris. The plaintiffs claim YouTube, which is owned by Google-parent Alphabet, violated the US Anti-Terrorism Act. YouTube allegedly allowed videos posted by ISIS to remain on the site and even be recommended to some users.
Communications Decency Act
The case challenges a section of a law passed in the internet’s nascence.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 essentially renders tech companies like Google and Facebook-parent Meta Platforms (META) not liable for third-party content posted on their platforms. This protects the companies from being sued for harmful and offensive content.
But the law was passed almost three decades ago, and the internet looked a lot different back then. Some industry observers believe it now needs to be modernized. Concerns include children’s exposure to harmful content, censorship of free speech, and proliferation of violent or hateful content.
Social Media Disruption
The case matters for more than just Google. The profitability of every tech firm from Twitter to TikTok hangs in the balance. Should Google lose, these tech giants will need to invest heavily in surveillance and content moderation, as well as in defending the inevitable influx of court cases.
And it matters for users too. Should the broad immunity be diminished, the breadth of content on the internet might shrink. Microsoft (MSFT) supported Google by stating companies will be forced to “dramatically cut down on the content they allow on their services.” Others predict creativity and engagement will be stifled as platforms pull back on recommended content.
When the case settles this summer, parents, consumers, and stockholders alike will be watching the outcome – albeit through many different lenses.
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