Supreme Court to Hear Case That Targets a Legal Shield of Tech Giants

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Google has denied the Gonzalez family’s arguments about Section 230. It has said that the family’s claims that Google supported terrorism are based on “threadbare assertions” and “speculative” arguments.

In Congress, efforts to reform Section 230 have stalled. Republicans, spurred by accusations that internet companies are more likely to take down conservative posts, proposed tweaking the law. Democrats said the platforms should take more content down when it spreads misinformation or hate speech.

Instead, courts started exploring the limits to how the law should be applied.

In one case in 2021, a federal appeals court in California ruled that Snap, the parent of Snapchat, could not use Section 230 to dodge a lawsuit involving three people who died in a car crash after using a Snapchat filter that displayed a user’s speed.

Last year, a federal judge in California said that Apple, Google and Meta, Facebook’s parent, could not use the legal shield to avoid some claims from consumers who said they were harmed by casino apps. A federal judge in Oregon also ruled that the statute didn’t shield Omegle, the chat site that connects users at random, from a lawsuit that said an 11-year-old girl met a predator through its service.

Tech companies say it will be devastating if the Supreme Court undercuts Section 230. Halimah DeLaine Prado, Google’s general counsel, said in an interview in December that the protections had been “crucial to allowing not just Google but the internet to flourish in its infancy, to actually become a major part of the broader U.S. economy.”

“It’s critically important that it stands as it is,” she said.

A spokesman for Meta pointed to a blog post where the company’s top lawyer said the case “could make it much harder for millions of online companies like Meta to provide the type of services that people enjoy using every day.”

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Activists have raised concerns that changes to the law could cause the platforms to crack down on content posted by vulnerable people. In 2018, a new law ended the protections of Section 230 when platforms knowingly facilitated sex trafficking. The activists say that caused sites to take down content from adult sex workers and posts about L.G.B.T.Q. people.