Supreme Court will hear Section 230 challenges in February

The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for two major internet moderation cases in February of 2023. As noted by Bloomberg reporter Greg Stohr, hearings for Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh have been respectively scheduled for February 21st and February 22nd, respectively.

The two cases could result in a fundamental change to how platforms can recommend content, particularly material produced by terrorist organizations. Both stem from lawsuits claiming that YouTube, Twitter, and other platforms provided support for Islamic State attacks by failing to remove — and, in some cases, recommending — accounts and posts by terrorists. Gonzalez v. Google’s plaintiffs claim these recommendations shouldn’t be covered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields web services from liability for illegal content. Twitter v. Taamneh covers a distinct but related question: whether these services are providing unlawful material support if they fail to kick terrorists out.

Google and Twitter have argued that stripping Section 230 protections for recommendation algorithms would have wide-ranging negative effects on the internet, making it risky for sites to help users find videos, tweets, or users by increasing their visibility. Among other things, Gonzalez v. Google could reveal whether the Supreme Court thinks recommendations are simply an extension of user-generated content (which is covered by Section 230) or whether they constitute separate, unprotected speech by the platform itself. And for Twitter, the case will be a test of new owner Elon Musk’s appetite for defending his platform in court.

President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has urged the court to reject at least some of Google’s arguments. The department filed a brief earlier this month urging it to vacate a lower court ruling that sided with Google, pushing for a narrower interpretation of Section 230’s protections. Biden himself has previously suggested revoking Section 230 altogether, though he hasn’t pushed to undermine the law as heavily as his predecessor Donald Trump.

Gonzalez and Taamneh could be the start of a long legal reevaluation of how Section 230 and the First Amendment apply to large web platforms. The Supreme Court seems likely to take up arguments over a pair of laws that could ban most content moderation in Texas and Florida — and the February arguments could provide a preview of its broader stance on moderation.

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