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Supreme Court ruling means victory for free speech online

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and, in the process, protected free speech online.


The court today ruled on two cases - Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter, Inc., v. Taamneh.


The question presented in Gonzalez was whether online services like Google may be held liable under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 for recommending relevant third-party content to their users. The court ruled they should not.


The case dates back to the ISIS killing of Nohemi Gonzalez in the November 2015 Paris attacks. There is no direct link between YouTube and Gonzalez’s death, no evidence that YouTube was used to plan the attacks or recruit the attackers. Nonetheless, Gonzalez’s family sued YouTube’s owner, Google, claiming that YouTube had hosted ISIS recruitment videos around the time of the attacks.


The trial court applied Section 230 and dismissed the suit. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. Now the case is headed to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs contend that their lawsuit is not about the terrorist videos themselves, but about YouTube recommending those videos to users.


Mountain States Policy Center and eleven other free market organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Google in this case in February, explaining that Section 230's liability shield is critical to protect the free marketplace of ideas on the internet. If the Court had limited Section 230’s liability shield for recommending third-party content, online services would have faced severe financial penalties for hosting speech which challenges mainstream political ideas.


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