Section 230 attack rightly rebuffed by Supreme Court

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court delivered a victory for online freedom by declining to consider arguments against critical protections which make the internet what it is today.

The court ruled on two related cases, Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google, in which victims of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State sought to hold Twitter and Google liable because the companies “aided and abetted” the deadly terrorists by not sufficiently moderating their platforms.

This line of argument strikes at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. As First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere argued in a commentary for Reason Magazine, Section 230, “promoted the ​​development of parental controls and filtering as an alternative to government censorship, and encouraged online platforms to allow free communication by immunizing them from liability for hosting speech by third parties. Crucially, Section 230 also ensured online platforms’ ability to regulate posts that violate their terms of service.”

The liability protections for online platform operators is critical.

Can you imagine what the internet would be like today if a website could be held liable because a single user posted something offensive?

The challenges in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court tried to argue that Twitter and Google were liable because terrorist propaganda could be accessible through their platforms.

In the Google case, the argument was made that Google, which owns video streaming site Youtube, was specifically liable because of the algorithmic video recommendation system on Youtube. This, they argued, could mean that terrorist recruitment videos could be recommended to someone using Youtube.

The court, however, rightly saw the flaw in these types of arguments.

“The mere creation of those platforms, however, is not culpable. To be sure, it might be that bad actors like ISIS are able to use platforms like defendants’ for illegal—and sometimes terrible—ends. But the same could be said of cell phones, email, or the internet generally,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas.

Opined Cato Institute policy analyst Will Duffield, “In a world where the basic business models and default openness of major social media platforms has come under attack, this recognition is valuable in any context. Paired with the court’s decision to pass up an opportunity to reinterpret Section 230, it is a victory for free speech worth celebrating.”


Section 230 has been in the headlines over the years, mostly because it has been under attack by both the left and right. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have called for it to be repealed, with Trump going so far as to threaten to veto the annual defense budget bill if Section 230 repeal wasn’t included.

There’s little doubt much of the anger about Section 230 is a result of ignorance about what it does, what it doesn’t do and why it matters

The section has been scapegoated as somehow the culprit behind real or perceived bias on major internet platforms. But, of course, in a free country with a First Amendment, internet platform owners can be as biased as they want if they wish. That’s just free speech.

This said, it is for the best that the Supreme Court declined these recent challenges to internet freedom.

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