Gonzalez v Google and the future of an open, free and safe internet

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In February, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, and its decision could radically alter the way that Americans use the internet. The case centers on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — “the twenty-six words that created the internet.” Section 230 protects hosting, displaying, or sharing content from other people. In real-world terms, it means that Spotify can recommend new songs, Monster can show relevant job postings, Etsy can promote niche antiques from small sellers, and you can “like” and “share” material you see online.

The question before the Court is whether Section 230 should continue to protect the organization, display, and recommendation of content from others. The stakes could not be higher. A decision undermining Section 230 would make websites either remove potentially controversial material or shut their eyes to objectionable content to avoid knowledge of it. You would be left with a forced choice between overly curated mainstream sites or fringe sites flooded with objectionable content.

Here are some of the points we make in the brief we filed today:

  • Section 230 protects content recommendations: Section 230 has always protected the ability of online services and their users to highlight relevant, useful content from others, connecting people to the material they enjoy. Legal risk for recommending or organizing content would reduce useful services like showing the best job listings, listing the most relevant products, or displaying the most helpful videos of recipes, songs, or sources of news, entertainment and information.
  • Upending Section 230 would harm free expression: Section 230 supports free expression online, enabling websites to offer a wide-range of information and allow a diversity of voices to be discovered and heard. Without Section 230, some websites would be forced to overblock, filtering content that could create any potential legal risk, and might shut down some services altogether. That would leave consumers with less choice to engage on the internet and less opportunity to work, play, learn, shop, create, and participate in the exchange of ideas online.
  • Upending Section 230 would make the internet less safe: At the same time, Section 230 empowers websites to remove or demote spam, scams and offensive content. Without Section 230, websites with fewer resources would be less likely to review and moderate egregious content for fear of litigation based on their knowledge of that content. Services could become less useful and less trustworthy — as efforts to root out scams, fraud, conspiracies, malware, violence, harassment, and more are stifled.
  • Section 230 is the economic backbone of the internet: Undercutting Section 230 would lead to businesses and websites being unable to operate and to more lawsuits that would hurt publishers, creators, and small businesses. That rising tide of litigation would reduce the flow of high-quality information on the internet, which has created millions of American jobs, innovative new ideas, and trillions in economic growth.

If the Supreme Court were to change the widely accepted application of Section 230, it would result in a digital experience — for everyone — that reflects the exact opposite of Congress’s legislative intent. It would impede access to information, limit free expression, hurt the economy, and leave consumers more vulnerable to harmful online content.

Don’t take our word for it. A broad cross-section of experts, academics, organizations and businesses from across America also recognize the importance of Section 230. We appreciate their thoughtful perspectives and look forward to making our case on behalf of everyone who uses the internet.

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