Electronic Frontier Foundation says Section 230 does not narrow

Digital rights nonprofit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed an amicus brief last Thursday urging the Supreme Court not to narrow Section 230.

In short, EFF said the case Gonzalez vs Google could be “detrimental to the expression of all users on the Internet” if the court were to side with the petitioners. The lawsuit, launched after the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, argues that platforms that use algorithmic recommendations for users should be held accountable for their recommendations. It also argues that Section 230 should not apply to services that allow users to find and share content through URLs or website addresses.

Should the court find itself against Google, it would be the largest change to platform protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The rule gives social media platforms and companies broad immunity from what is posted on the platform. the Gonzalez vs Google case could change that significantly. The EFF argues that this would make the internet worse and demonstrably less free.

The case is due to be heard next month.

“Under this new legal system, intermediaries would be reluctant to make content accessible via URL,” the brief reads. “Searching and sharing would be severely restricted. Content could exist online, but only in an unindexed vacuum. A content creator or original poster might be able to see the content they uploaded, but online platforms would prevent other users from knowing where to find it or how to share it.”

EFF said the petitioners seek a “narrow interpretation” of Section 230 that would “drastically undermine the significant gains that Congress sought in passing the law.”

The nonprofit also said removing 230 platform protections would lead to an increase in censorship.

“Any reduction in Section 230 immunity would lead online platforms to both prescreen or remove later any user content that may even be away problematic to mitigate their legal exposure,” the brief reads. “Pre-screening is of particular concern as it would prevent content from being published in the first place and would end the unique ability of anyone with an internet connection to communicate cheaply, easily and quickly with others around the world.”

The brief argued that outside of protecting expressions of speech online, Section 230 provides a legal incentive for companies to keep protected expressions of expression online amid threats of legal action, and that the court’s decision could increase the likelihood that platforms would come under pressure give in to a lawsuit.

“Section 230 also ensures that online intermediaries have strong legal incentives to keep protected opinions online in the face of a person’s threat to sue for a particular expression made by a user,” the brief said. “Nevertheless, according to the legal theory of the petitioners, there is an increased risk of maintaining user-generated content in the face of such legal threats. Therefore, intermediaries would remove the content in question rather than invest resources in investigating or addressing the complaint.”

A lawyer for EFF did not respond to a request for comment.

Section 230 has been a hot topic for politicians on both sides of the aisle in recent years. Politicians from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have all come forward with plans to either reform or abolish Section 230 altogether.


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*Initial publication: January 23, 2023 4:23 pm CST

Jacob Seitz

Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist originally from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.

Jacob Seitz

https://www.dailydot.com/debug/eff-section-230-brief-supreme-court/ Electronic Frontier Foundation says Section 230 does not narrow

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