Supreme Court justices seemed to suggest on Tuesday that they’ll be cautious on the very first case they’ll be hearing this week. The cases will decide how companies on the internet will handle content and speech moderated.
On Tuesday, the justices took up the oral argument in Gonzalez V. Google, a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of the relatives of an American woman named Nohemi Gonzalez who was murdered in an attack in 2015 by the Islamic State group attack in Paris. The family claims that Google is the owner of YouTube is responsible for the death of Nohemi Gonzalez because its algorithms provided extremist content to those who could be vulnerable to it.
The case considers the issue of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects an internet platform’s automated recommendation. Google asserts that it is granted protection under this statute since ISIS and not YouTube was the source of video-related content.
“Section 23 is considered to be the underlying law of the internet’s modern. It was created in 1996 to promote the creation of platforms on the internet which would allow communication,” Anupam Chander, a Georgetown University law professor, explained to Yahoo News. The text of the 1996 law at the center of the hearing on Tuesday doesn’t explicitly refer to content that is based on algorithms because their use wasn’t widespread when the law was passed.
“Everybody is trying to determine what … an earlier algorithm statute is applicable in the post-algorithm world,” Justice Elena Kagan said in the hearing on Tuesday. “You know, these judges are not the nine most renowned experts on the Internet,” she later quipped in reference to the top justices of the court.
For almost three hours, the justices questioned lawyers representing their clients, the Gonzalez family as well as Google along with the Department of Justice about ways the justices can draw the line without putting unintended outcomes in motion for how users use the internet.
“I believe the justices are aware that this decision will have massive implications and they’re approaching it with attention to detail,” Chander said.
Yahoo News spoke with Chander after the hearing on Tuesday to get his thoughts on the hearing. Some of Chander’s responses were edited to improve clarity and length.