A Supreme Court case addressing whether Section 230 shields internet platforms for their use of recommendation algorithms.
On January 19, 2023, the Knight Institute filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in Gonzalez v. Google LLC, a case concerning the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—specifically, whether Section 230 immunizes internet platforms from claims challenging their use of recommendation algorithms.
In Gonzalez, families of those killed in ISIS terrorist attacks sued Google, alleging that it had aided and abetted those attacks by allowing ISIS to post videos to YouTube and by recommending those videos to users through recommendation algorithms. The Ninth Circuit held that Section 230 immunized Google from those claims, because YouTube’s recommendation algorithms merely amplified the content at issue, but did not “materially contribute” to the alleged illegality.
The Institute’s amicus brief argues that recommendation algorithms are crucial to free speech online—even though they can sometimes have pernicious effects—and that categorically excluding them from Section 230 immunity would have devastating consequences. The brief further argues that the statute is best read to immunize platforms for their recommendation algorithms except where they materially contribute—in a manner that goes beyond mere amplification of speech—to the alleged illegality. This reading would immunize platforms for decisions that are inextricable from publication, but not for design, engineering, or other decisions that cause harm.
Status: On May 18, 2023, the Supreme Court declined to address the scope of Section 230, reasoning that the case could largely be disposed of on the same grounds as Taamneh.
Case Information: Gonzalez v. Google LLC, No. 21-1333 (Supreme Court).