The US Supreme Court does not understand the Internet

1 year ago
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The latest laws in both Texas And Florida sought to impose greater restrictions on how platforms can and cannot control content.

Gonzalez vs. Google takes a different path, focusing on the inability of platforms to deal with extremist content. Social media platforms have been accused of facilitating hate speech and calls for violence that have resulted in real damage, from genocide in myanmar to assassinations in Ethiopia and an attempted coup d’état in Brazil.

“The content in question is clearly horrendous and unacceptable,” says G.S. Hans is an associate professor of law at Cornell University in New York. “But that’s part of what online performance is. And I’m afraid that the extremeness of the content will lead to some conclusions or religious conclusions that I don’t think really reflect the broader dynamics of the Internet.”

The Internet Society’s Sullivan says the arguments around Section 230 align large tech companies, which, as private companies, can decide what content is allowed on their platforms, with the Internet as a whole.

“People have forgotten how the Internet works,” Sullivan says. “Because we had an economic reality that meant that certain platforms were overwhelmingly successful, we began to confuse the social problems associated with the overwhelming dominance of an individual player, or a small handful of players, with the problems associated with the Internet.”

Sullivan fears that the only companies able to survive such regulations will be larger platforms, further bolstering the influence Big Tech platforms already have.

Decisions made in the US to regulate the Internet are also likely to reverberate around the world. Pratik Wagre, political director of the Internet Freedom Foundation in India, says the Section 230 decision could set a precedent for other countries.

“It’s not so much about the specifics of the case,” Wagre says. “It’s more about [how] once you have prescriptive regulation or precedent coming from the United States, that’s when other countries, especially those prone to authoritarianism, will use it to justify their own interventions.”

The Government of India is already taking steps to increase content control in the country, including the establishment of a government-appointed committee to moderate content and increase compliance with the country’s IT regulations.

Wagre suspects that if platforms have to implement policies and tools to comply with the amended or completely repealed Article 230, then they are likely to apply the same methods and standards to other markets as well. In many parts of the world, major platforms, such as Facebook, so ubiquitous that it actually functions like the Internet for millions of people.

“Once you start doing something in one country, it is used as a precedent or reason to do the same in another country,” he says.

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