Oral Arguments Expected Next Week at the US Supreme Court Over Future of Section 230

The open internet is at stake at the US Supreme Court. The case is Gonzalez v Google and it could take down Section 230.

Section 230 is an absolutely critical protection for the free and open internet. The text of the Section itself is as follows:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

It’s a pretty straight forward law. Basically, if someone uses a website to post something illegal, then the website itself is not considered the publisher of that content. The liability lies squarely where it belongs: with the user in question.

In recent years, however, some foolish individuals have tried to argue that Section 230 should be dismantled. Knowing that they can’t argue on the merits of the law, some of these anti-internet voices have tried to re-write what Section 230 actually says and straw man attacks the law instead. This generally takes the form of how the internet is no longer free and open. Others suggest that Section 230 only applies to big tech companies and that the time for protection has come to an end. None of this is true, obviously, but this is a sample of some of what those anti-internet voices have said about that particular law.

The reality, of course, is that Section 230 is what allowed the free and open internet to actually develop and be the technological phenomenon it is today. Without Section 230, websites would be substantially less interactive and innovation would basically evaporate. Instead, what you would be left with afterwards is a handful of bare bones HTML files floating around the web.

Other countries would then have to pick up the slack and rebuild huge portions of internet infrastructure as internet innovation would effectively be banned altogether. Without Section 230, Freezenet would also pretty much cease to exist as well, stifling my freedom of expression in the process. Freezenet would be far from alone in terms of those affected by such a thing.

It is precisely these reasons why so much attention in the US has been focused on an up and coming case known as Gonzalez v Google. We offered some coverage on this important case back in January when we had a moment to breathe and talk about something not in Canada for once. Nothing has really changed much in the case, but word is that oral arguments are going to begin next week. From TechDirt:

Next week, the Supreme Court will hold the oral arguments in the Gonzalez and Taamneh cases. Gonzalez is the main show (and I’m somewhat surprised they didn’t have the hearings on the same day). There were dozens upon dozens of amicus briefs filed in the case, including one by us. There have been lots of articles this week talking about the case, and most of them are… not great. But I did want to present three very useful summaries — one video, two written — if you’d like to understand just what’s at stake here.

First up, we have Legal Eagle, who always does amazing videos summarizing legal issues (often in a humorous, but legally rigorous, way). He explains how much is at stake in this case, noting how it could fundamentally change the internet:

Notably, he was so concerned that he also signed onto a great amicus brief trying to warn the court of the dangers ahead.

And the key point: if the Supreme Court eviscerates Section 230 (as it very well might), it will give politicians (of both parties) much greater ability to control speech online:

The stakes could not be higher. These cases will test the limits of what the Supreme Court meant in Packingham v. North Carolina back in 2017, when it warned that courts must exercise “extreme caution” before ratifying attempts to regulate online speech. They also will test the underlying assumptions that motivated the adoption of Section 230 in the first place: that the internet flourished because it was unfettered by federal or state regulation.

The alternative will be to leave the future of freedom of speech in the hands of politicians. I shudder at the thought.

So, indeed, Canadian’s have reason to worry about a number of laws happening in Canada that could fundamentally change the internet for the worse. However, this case is also very much worth keeping an eye on because it could completely upend the entire open internet. So many platforms and services that exist today are based out of the US. This includes web hosts and domain name registrars. A bad ruling here could spell the end of a lot of these services and cause a lot of people to switch hosts and domain name registrar services – assuming they are able to stay afloat at all.

Given the courts overturning of Roe v Wade, many are nervous because it’s impossible to tell for sure which way the court is heading at the moment. With so much at stake here, American’s have every reason to be stressed out over this. There’s not a lot we can do here in Canada, but what we can do is sit here and hope that Section 230 survives this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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