Section 230 is a reality check, not a ‘liability shield’ for online platforms – The News Herald

The United States Supreme Court has agreed in its next session to hear an appeal in Gonzalez v. Google. The case deals with one aspect of the “26 Words That Created The Internet” — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

As is usually the case when Section 230 pops up, the pundit-media industry complex gets carried away by describing Section 230 as a “liability shield” that offers “immunity” to Big Tech. It is not “liability protection” or “immunity” except in the sense that you are neither “liable” nor need “immunity” from prosecution for a crime you did not commit.

Here are the “26 words” in question: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service should be considered the publisher or speaker of information provided by another information content provider. »

The important thing to understand about those 26 words is that they should have been condensed into 23 words that say the same thing: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service is the publisher or speaker of any information posted or spoken by someone else. ”

Today’s Internet thrives on self-publishing platforms. Social media like Twitter and Facebook. Commenting services like Disqus. Blogging platforms like WordPress.

These platforms are analogous to printing presses, which can be used by anyone to print anything, not to newspapers or magazines where an editor pre-selects content for publication.

If I sell you a car, I’m not the one getting drunk and ramming it into a tree. If I give you a printing press, I’m not the one using it to put out a Ku Klux Klan tract or a stack of revenge porn flyers.

González v. Google takes this obvious fact of reality a bit far.

It’s not about who posted what, but about the “recommendation algorithm” of YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. The plaintiffs claim that because YouTube’s algorithm recommended Islamic State recruitment videos to viewers, Google is responsible for that organization’s 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris (in which a relative of the plaintiffs was killed). .

But YouTube did not publish these videos. They just made a video “printing press” available to everyone on the internet, then used an algorithm to recommend videos that particular viewers might be interested in watching. The creators of the videos made the videos. People interested in the videos watched – and possibly reacted in response – to the videos.

Yes, YouTube helped make this possible, but only in the same way that a magazine running an ad for chainsaws lets an idiot chop down a tree on your house.

Trying to undo reality by repealing or nullifying the effect of section 230 will not stop terrorism. It won’t keep us safe. This will make it easier for us to muzzle.

The lower courts were correct in ruling against plaintiffs Gonzalez v. Google. The Supreme Court should also recognize the reality and put this vexatious lawsuit out of its misery.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

Photo courtesy of Avens O’Brien

Thomas L. Knapp