What is Section 230? | What the Tech?

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (WHAT THE TECH?) — Supreme Court justices are hearing testimony from a court case that revolves around terrorist videos uploaded to YouTube.

However, the decision could impact not only Google but every website and social media platform on the internet.

Platforms have been protected by a law known as Section 230 that basically says if you host content online, you are not responsible for what users post on those sites.

“Think of it this way, if you are a phone company, you own the phone lines. You are not responsible for what people are saying over the phone lines,” Adam Chiara, Associate Professor of Communications at Hartford University explains. “And that is how social media companies and websites have been treated since then,” when Section 230 became law in 1996.

That was long before Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit. Those social platforms and their billions of users will be affected greatly if Section 230 protection is changed.

“Right now, the court needs to decide, are these platforms providers of content, or publishers of content,” said Chiara.

The case before the court is about terrorist videos that weren’t just available on YouTube but actually promoted or recommended by the YouTube algorithm. Google attorneys contend YouTube is protected by Section 230. But since the videos were recommended

“If the court decides, yeah that pushes them to the publisher side, then that will just completely upend the internet because it’s now all companies, all websites, and all social media platforms will have to abide by that rule,” Chiara said.

Facebook and Twitter already block posts that they deem threatening or offensive. Many users report posts about their religion have put them in “Facebook Jail” or paused for 24 hours.

“If they even make some kind of ruling, even if it’s very narrow, what happens is others can bring up lawsuits, ‘well we think these fits under it, and this fits under it,” Chiara said. “And now all of a sudden, you’re going to have a lot of court cases that will start reshaping the internet.”

“That is a concern, especially if it is a broad ruling. How much restriction on speech will there be?” said Chiara. “We just don’t know how afraid these companies are going to be of being stuck in court all of the time.”

Based on testimony so far, justices have shown reluctance to changes that will affect the internet as we know it now. A Supreme Court decision is expected by June.