If a landmark lawsuit against Google succeeds in America’s highest court, Google may be required to accept responsibility for YouTube videos it recommends to users.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing was the culmination of years-long legal campaigns by the family of a victim in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. They claim that YouTube suggested extremist content to their users.
A defeat for Google would threaten the legal shield search engines and social media networks have used for 27 year to avoid liability in case of illegal videos, messages and photos.
Section 230 provides broad immunity for websites that host or manage user-uploaded content. The family of Nohemi González, a 23 year-old victim of the coordinated terrorist attacks in November 2015 that claimed he was among 129 victims, says that the shield has been forfeited because sites like YouTube use algorithms to prioritize certain posts and videos.
Family members argue that Google should be held responsible for videos it recommends to users and that Google violated anti-terrorism laws when it promoted videos of Islamic State recruitment.
A majority of major websites use an algorithm to manage user-posted material. A ruling against Google could force internet firms to tighten their web policies for explicit or violent content.
Michael Smith, an information technology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said that if they do it indelicately and state that if you promote that content in anyway you lose immunity, then this is going to blow-up the internet.
Google has won numerous cases in lower courts. They tried to stop the case from reaching America’s highest court. But, the Supreme Court accepted the case.
On Wednesday, a similar case against Twitter will be heard by the family Nawras Alasaf, who was killed in an Istanbul terrorist attack in 2017.
Section 230, a long-standing law, has been referred as the “26 words which created the internet”. It has been seen as a sticking point in negotiations for a post-Brexit US trade agreement. This conflicted with UK Government plans to tighten internet regulation.
The Republican-leaning Supreme Court will rule on the cases this summer. It made controversial decisions last year on topics such as gun control and abortion. One of the nine members of the court, Clarence Thomas has been a vocal critic of internet companies’ use of the law to avoid liability .
17 Republican Congressmen submitted documents to the court requesting a stricter interpretation. Meanwhile, tech companies lined up to defend Google. They warn that a ruling against Google could lead to mass internet censorship.
Damian Collins, a Conservative MP who was formerly chairman of the digital culture, media, and sport committee, stated that “Whatever happens in America has an effect on the platform policy for businesses that affects the entire world.
“If a company is going be legally responsible, it’s hugely important in terms of suggested content on social media platforms but could have wider implications for how companies develop their products, and the care they take not to cause unintended consequences.”
Collins stated that US trade negotiators tried to impose Section 230-like laws as part of a trade agreement. However, the UK strongly resisted these efforts.
President Joe Biden stated that he would like to see the law reform to make it more difficult for internet companies to be held responsible for violent material.