Recent laws in both Texas and Florida have attempted to place greater restrictions on how platforms can and cannot monitor content.
Gonzalez v. Google takes a different tack by focusing on the failure of platforms to deal with extremist content. Social media platforms have been accused of promoting hatred and calls for violence that have led to real harm, from the genocide in Myanmar to the killings in Ethiopia and the coup attempt in Brazil.
“The content in question is clearly horrific and objectionable,” says HS Hans, an associate professor of law at Cornell University in New York. “But that’s part of what online speech is. And I fear that the extremity of the content will lead to some conclusions or religious implications that I don’t think reflect the broader dynamics of the Internet.”
The Internet Community’s Sullivan says the arguments surrounding Section 230 are conflating big tech companies — which, as private companies, can decide what content is allowed on their platforms — with the Internet at large.
“People have forgotten how the Internet works,” says Sullivan. “Because we had an economic reality that meant that certain platforms were wildly successful, we started to confuse the social problems of the overwhelming dominance of a single player or a small group of players with problems related to the Internet.”
Sullivan worries that the only companies able to survive such regulations will be the larger platforms, further strengthening the power that Big Tech platforms already have.
Decisions made in the US to regulate the Internet are also likely to reverberate around the world. Pratik Wagre, director of policy at the Internet Freedom Foundation in India, says the Section 230 ruling could set a precedent for other countries.
“It’s not about the specifics of the case,” Vagre says. “It’s more about [how] once you have a prescriptive rule or precedent coming out of the United States, then other countries, especially authoritarian ones, will use it to justify their own intervention.”
The Indian government is already taking steps to take greater control of content in the country, including the creation of a government-appointed committee to moderate content and stricter enforcement of the country’s IT rules.
Waghre suspects that if platforms have to implement policies and tools to comply with a modified or fully repealed Section 230, they will likely apply the same practices and standards to other markets. In many countries around the world, major platforms, especially Facebook, are so ubiquitous that they essentially function as the Internet for millions of people.
“If you start doing something in one country, it’s used as a precedent or a reason to do the same thing in another country,” he says.