The Internet Dodges Censorship by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court today refused to weaken one of the key laws supporting free expression online, and recognized that digital platforms are not usually liable for their users’ illegal acts, ensuring that everyone can continue to use those services to speak and organize.

The decisions in Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh are great news for a free and vibrant internet, which inevitably depends on services that host our speech. The court in Gonzalez declined to address the scope of 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”), which generally protects users and online services from lawsuits based on content created by others. Section 230 is an essential part of the legal architecture that enables everyone to connect, share ideas, and advocate for change without needing immense resources or technical expertise. By avoiding addressing Section 230, the Supreme Court avoided weakening it.

In Taamneh, the Supreme Court rejected a legal theory that would have made online services liable under the federal Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act on the theory that members of terrorist organizations or their supporters simply used these services like we all do: to create and share content. The decision is another win for users’ online speech, as it avoids an outcome where providers censor far more content than they do already, or even prohibit certain topics or users entirely when they could later be held liable for aiding or abetting their user’s wrongful acts.

Given the potential for both decisions to have disastrous consequences for users’ free expression, EFF is pleased that the Supreme Court left existing legal protections for online speech legal in place.

But we cannot rest easy. There are pressing threats to users’ online speech as Congress considers legislation to weaken Section 230 and otherwise expand intermediary liability. Users must continue to advocate for their ability to have a free and open internet that everyone can use.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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