How the Supreme Court could break the Internet as we know it

360 shows you diverse perspectives on today’s top stories and discussions.

What is happening

The Supreme Court announced this week that it will hear two cases that could fundamentally change the legal foundations of the internet.

Both cases require judges to consider the extent to which they protect websites and social media companies from legal liability for what users post on their platforms. This protection was created in part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 known as Section 230 – the provision that was invoked Section 230 did two critical things. You have proven that companies that operate websites or social media platforms cannot be held legally liable if their users post content that violates the law. It also gives them the right to organize, edit and delete User Content as they see fit.

For the past 26 years, Section 230 has focused on nearly everything to do with how the Internet works. Experts broadly agree that big tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter would not exist in their current forms without the legal shield they receive from Section 230.

But in recent years, Section 230 has become the target of intense criticism from members of both political parties, albeit for different reasons. Many Republicans say it allows big tech companies to suppress conservative views and censor prominent voices on the right — most notably former President Donald Trump, who is currently banned from Facebook and Twitter. Democrats and some activists on the left argue that Section 230 means social media companies face no consequences when they allow disinformation, violent speech and harassment on their platforms. A number of bills have been introduced to amend Section 230, but the political divide over what the solution should look like meant that none of the bills came close to ratification.

Neither of the two Supreme Court cases is in one aspect of this partisan debate. Both relate to lawsuits brought by family members of people killed in terrorist attacks who believe that technology companies – And the They should be held responsible for not preventing extremist groups from operating on their platforms.

Why is there a debate?

For all the complaints about Section 230, there is still a lot of concern about how a decision will dramatically alter, or even eliminate, its own protections the online world we rely on so much today.

Many communications law experts fear the decision to do away with Section 230 could cause chaos in one of the world’s most important industries, as companies try to respond quickly to a sudden and drastic change in the legal landscape. They argue that because few companies will be able to take on the new financial risk of lawsuits over user-generated posts, places for free speech online will quickly erode or even disappear. Other sites may go in the opposite direction and avoid moderation altogether, which could create space for their platforms to become hotbeds of objectionable content.

Some experts say that even the smallest changes can disrupt the myriad of automated algorithms and systems that allow so much of the Internet to function effectively.

But others argue that it is long past time for new laws to govern online speech, and with Congress unable to pass anything reasonable, the courts offer the best chance of creating them. Some conservatives hope the upcoming ruling will make big tech companies less willing to censor right-wing content. Some legal scholars say the risks of a ruling that “break the Internet” are overstated. They argue that the court is likely to pass a ruling that narrowly changes the law in ways that force companies to accept more accountability for things like content recommendations, promotions and search results, but leave them shielded from users’ misdeeds.

What’s Next

The rulings in these two cases, which are expected next year, may not be the only time the court will consider Section 230 of that term. The judges were also asked to consider cases related to recently passed laws in Texas and Florida that prevent social media companies from removing posts based on political ideology.

Outlook – Perspectives

The basic structure of the Internet can change dramatically

“Its rulings could be the start of a new online reality, where platforms are more careful about the content they decide to release to billions of people every day. Alternatively, the court could also create a situation where tech companies have little power to modify what users post, leading to Years of efforts to curb the access of misinformation, abuse, and hate speech are set back. The result may lead to parts of the Internet becoming unrecognized, as voices rise or fall and information spreads in different ways.” – David Ingram,

Even narrow judgment would scramble in life online

This does not mean that the Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion saying that “platforms are fully responsible for everything related to them, immediately and irrevocably” or something like that. Small changes make a big difference, and if the court simply ruled that Article 230 Google does not protect in this case, every attorney in the state will be quick to apply this new definition of the law to policies, behaviors, features and everything.” – Devin Caldway,

Minor changes are needed to update the laws to fit the modern internet

“What we are trying to do is to balance the needs of the platforms so that we don’t immediately take responsibility for what is being posted on their platform and also provide the platforms with the right incentives to monitor their sites against known harmful content. The question is whether we got that balance right in 1996, And I think you could make a very good argument that we might want to rebalance that.” — Michael Smith, IT researcher, to

The average user is not likely to see much change

“I don’t think it will change much, in fact. Platforms already have tremendous control over how content is promoted. They will have to make wiser decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.” – Adam Candope, Communications Law Expert to

Current laws give big tech companies too much room to censor conservative views

“Censorship of conservative voices by big tech companies is well documented. Some on Capitol Hill have gone so far as to claim that big tech companies virtually “own” the government—a claim that appears increasingly well-founded given the government’s documented efforts to control messaging during the epidemic and on politically inappropriate stories.” – Sarah Parshall Berry,

Courts may soon make the internet completely impractical

“It is entirely possible that the Supreme Court will rule next year that (1) websites are responsible for failing to remove certain content (in these two cases) and (2) websites can be forced to move all content. It would be great to find out how all of this works Although, some of us will probably have to do this to know the Internet, because it is not clear how the Internet will actually work at that point.” – Mike Masnick,

Conservatives will face the biggest consequences if Section 230 . is fired

“If a company like Twitter suddenly finds that it takes responsibility for every post on its site, the company says its options will be either to fold completely or to conduct a great deal of scrutiny and moderation of content, much more than what actually happens. That, of course, is not exactly what Conservatives want it.” – Kyle Barr,

Everyone will benefit from having clearly defined rules about what tech companies can and cannot do

“The two cases, when taken together, will give the court an opportunity to clarify the ground rules for when platforms can be sued for doing too little to censor content, or doing too much promoting it.” – Dan McLaughlin,

Congress’ failure to pass sensible reforms has left the fate of the Internet in the hands of the Supreme Court

“If the United States had a more dynamic Congress, lawmakers could examine the question of how to preserve the economic and social benefits of internet algorithms, while preventing them from posting ISIS recruitment videos and racist plots, and perhaps write a law that strikes the appropriate balance. But litigants go to court with the laws we have, Not the laws we might want.” – Ian Millheiser,

Is there a topic you’d like to cover in “360”? Send your suggestions to the360@yahoonews.com.

Image caption: Yahoo News; Images: Getty Images

Leave a Comment