The Supreme Court next week will hear two cases — Gonzalez v. Google on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and Twitter v. Taamneh on Wednesday, Feb. 22 — that could dramatically affect users’ speech rights online.
Nearly everyone who speaks online relies on Section 230, a 1996 law that promotes free speech online. Because users rely on online intermediaries as vehicles for their speech, they can communicate to large audiences without needing financial resources or technical know-how to distribute their own speech. Section 230 plays a critical role in enabling free speech online by generally ensuring that those intermediaries are not legally responsible for what is said by others.
Section 230’s reach is broad: It protects users as well as small blogs and websites, giants like Twitter and Google, and any other service that provides a forum for others to express themselves online. Courts have repeatedly ruled that Section 230 bars lawsuits against users and services for sharing or hosting content created by others, whether by forwarding email, hosting online reviews, or reposting photos or videos that others find objectionable. Section 230 also protects the curation of online speech, giving intermediaries the legal breathing room to decide what type of user expression they will host and to also take steps to moderate content as they see fit.
But if the plaintiffs in these cases convince the Court to narrow the legal interpretation of Section 230 and increase platforms’ legal exposure for generally knowing harmful material is present on their services, the significant protections that Congress envisioned in enacting this law would be drastically eroded. Many online intermediaries would intensively filter and censor user speech, others may simply not host user content at all, and new online forums may not even get off the ground.
Here's some useful background on these extremely important cases:
Gonzalez v. Google
- EFF’s amicus brief, joined by the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Internet Archive
- EFF's blog post explaining our brief: EFF Tells Supreme Court: User Speech Must Be Protected
- Amicus brief of Sen. Ron Wyden and former Rep. Christopher Cox, co-authors of Section 230
- Background on Gonzalez v. Google
Twitter v. Taamneh
- Amicus brief of EFF, Center for Democracy & Technology, American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, R Street Institute, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- EFF's blog post explaining our brief: The Supreme Court Must Protect Internet Users’ Rights to Access Controversial Information Online
- Background on Twitter v. Taamneh
- EFF’s fuller explanation of Section 230’s importance
- A one-pager on Section 230
- A detailed refutation of arguments against Section 230
- A review of key legal precedents regarding Section 230
- EFF's blog post: Don’t Blame Section 230 for Big Tech’s Failures. Blame Big Tech.
- EFF’s whitepaper on the importance of Section 230, as well as the need to pivot to robust rules around online competition, data privacy, and interoperability