Hawley: Section 230 liability shield ‘allows platforms to escape any real accountability’ 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is arguing that the liability shield in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act allows digital platforms such as YouTube to “escape any real accountability” for the content on their sites. 

“Far from making the internet safer for children and families, Section 230 now allows platforms to escape any real accountability for their decision-making — as the tragic facts, and procedural history, of this case make clear,” Hawley argued in a Tuesday amicus brief supporting the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen killed in a 2015 Islamic State terror attack in France, in their suit against YouTube parent company Google. 

The family argues that the video-sharing site provided a platform for terrorist content and suggested “hundreds of radicalizing videos” from terrorist groups “inciting violence and recruiting potential supporters” to users via its recommendation algorithm.  

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, digital service providers such as Google, YouTube and Twitter are usually protected from being held liable for information uploaded by their users — but the family in Gonzalez v. Google is asking the Supreme Court whether that liability shield still applies when companies make “targeted recommendations.”  

Hawley in his amicus brief argues that the law has been wrongly interpreted to “shield the Nation’s largest and most powerful technology corporations from any legal consequences.”  

Google’s team has countered that digital platforms have to make “constant choices” about the display of information on their sites, and that Section 230 protects those types of decisions.

“YouTube does not produce its own reviews of books or videos or tell users that a given video is ‘terrific,’ ” attorneys for Google wrote in a filing.

“The Court should not lightly adopt a reading of section 230 that would threaten the basic organizational decisions of the modern internet.”

A separate amicus brief filed Tuesday by a bipartisan group of more than two-dozen attorneys general also argues for “reining in Section 230 immunity,” noting that the internet is a “dramatically different place” now than it was when the legislation was passed in the 1990s.  

“Social media companies that now claim Section 230 immunity do not just ‘publish’ user-generated material; they actively exploit it,” the attorneys general wrote.   

“This Court should look askance at the notion that Congress intended the targeted language of Section 230 to immunize internet companies from nearly all forms of private liability.”  

The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in Gonzalez could greatly impact the legal landscape for online speech. The court agreed in October that it would hear the case this term.  

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