Meta, Twitter, Microsoft and others urge US Supreme Court to block lawsuits over algorithm they say could destroy the internet

Meta, Microsoft, Twitter and other tech companies have come to Google’s defense in a series of legal documents filed Thursday in a US Supreme Court case that could fundamentally change the way the Internet works. Companies urge Supreme Court justices to address Gonzalez v. Google, which aims to determine whether online companies should be held responsible for the content they recommend to users. They fear an overhaul of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which they say could destroy the Internet.

Enacted in 1996, Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act (CDA) helps protect online companies from liability arising from what is posted on their platforms. Many experts consider Section 230 to be fundamental to how the Internet works today. In recent years, Section 230 has become the target of legislation, and companies or online platforms claim that a change to the section could have significant implications for the technology sector. The issue, however, divides industry players.

For now, Section 230 continues to protect online platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter and Google – from legal action regarding their users’ posts (comments, reviews, advertisements, etc.). However, the legal battle Gonzalez v. google who place currently in the United States is threatening to breach that protection. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, owned by Google, has been implicated and accused of promoting terrorism-related videos. The US Supreme Court is considering whether it’s time to limit this law, which was written before the Internet became a central part of everyday life.

But many corporations, netizens, academics and even human rights experts on Thursday defended the Section 230 shield and urged the court to cut the case short. In addition to Meta and Twitter, the group of companies also included Yelp and Microsoft, which are usually rivals of Google. Craigslist, Reddit, and a group of volunteer Reddit moderators also got involved. Even some of the most vocal critics of Big Tech in general, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have also spoken as friends of the court to warn of the implications of such a trial.

A court ruling undermining the law would rob those digital publishing decisions of essential and long-standing protections from lawsuits, “illogically, contrary to how algorithms actually work,” Microsoft said in its motion. Reddit and its moderators say a ruling allowing lawsuits against the tech industry’s algorithms could lead to future lawsuits against even non-algorithmic forms of recommendation and potentially targeted lawsuits against individual Internet users. They warn of a serious precedent.

The entire Reddit platform is built around users recommending content for the benefit of others by taking actions such as upvoting and pinning content. “The implications of the petitioners’ contention in this case should not be misunderstood: their theory would greatly expand the possibility that Internet users could be prosecuted for their online interactions,” we can read in the filing of Reddit and its moderators. Yelp, which is a longtime antagonist of Google, told the court that its business depends on providing relevant, non-misleading reviews to its users.

So a judgment creating liability for recommendation algorithms could break Yelp’s core functions by effectively forcing it to stop curating all reviews, even those that might be manipulative or false. If Yelp didn’t have the ability to analyze and recommend reviews without taking its own responsibility, those fraudulent review submission costs would disappear. If Yelp displayed every review submitted, business owners could submit hundreds of positive reviews for their business with little effort or risk of penalty, San Francisco-based Yelp writes.

Section 230 ensures that online platforms can moderate content in order to present users with the most relevant data from the vast amounts of information being added to the internet every day. It would take an average user about 181 million years to download all the data on the web today, Twitter argued. “If the mere act of displaying third-party content on a user’s feed is considered a ‘recommendation,’ then many services will potentially be responsible for almost all of the third-party content they host,” writes Meta, the owner of Facebook.

Thus, almost any decision about how to sort, select, organize and display third-party content can be construed as a “recommendation” of that content, Meta added. According to New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, it is virtually impossible to conceive of a rule that singles out algorithmic recommendation as a meaningful category of responsibility and may even “result in the loss or obfuscation of a massive amount of value. speech’, especially speech from marginalized or minority groups.

Tech companies that have filed as friends of the court have focused much of their filings on warnings about how a lawsuit could harm their products. Microsoft added that its search engine Bing and its professional social network LinkedIn could suffer the “devastating and destabilizing effects of a general ruling amending Section 230.” In a statement, Microsoft said it is better to leave it to Congress to decide on any changes to Section 230. The US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on February 21.

On the prosecution side, a number of child online safety advocates, such as Fairplay and Common Sense Media, have supported the Gonzalez family in the case, arguing that tech companies should face consequences for the ways their products can harm children. According to some sources, the US government has partially sided with the Gonzalez family, arguing that in some cases social media companies should be held responsible for promoting harmful speech. Ziprecruiter and Indeed also supported Google in this case.

Sources: Microsoft (PDF), Yelp (PDF), Meta (PDF), Twitter (PDF), Reddit (PDF), New York University (PDF)

And you?

What is your opinion on this topic?
What do you think about the massive support from Google technology companies?
What do you think about Section 230 of the CDA? are you for or against revising it? Why ?
In your opinion, are online companies responsible for the content published on their platforms?

See also

Google warns US Supreme Court that messing up Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act could bankrupt the internet and cause devastating consequences

Supreme Court blocks Texas social media moderation ban, legal battle over HB 20 continues

New algorithm bill could force Facebook to change how News Feed works without changing Section 230

Experts tell US senators that social media algorithms threaten democracy, but Facebook, YouTube and Twitter challenge that claim

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