The US Supreme Court doesn’t understand the internet

Recent laws in both Texas And Florida have tried to put more restrictions on how platforms can and cannot monitor content.

Gonzalez to Google takes a different track and focuses on the failure of platforms to deal with extremist content. Social media platforms have been accused of facilitating hate speech and calls for violence that have led to real-world harm a genocide in Myanmar to assassinations in Ethiopia and an attempted coup in Brazil.

“The content at issue is clearly appalling and objectionable,” said GS Hans, an associate professor at Cornell University in New York. “But that’s part of what online speech is. And I fear that the kind of extremity of the content will lead to some conclusions or religious implications that I don’t think really reflect the larger dynamics of the internet.”

Sullivan of the Internet Society says the arguments surrounding Section 230 confuse big tech companies — which, as private companies, can decide what content is allowed on their platforms — with the internet as a whole.

“People have forgotten how the internet works,” says Sullivan. “Because we’ve had an economic reality that has led certain platforms to become overwhelming successes, we’ve begun to confuse social issues related to the overwhelming dominance of an individual player or a small handful of players with issues related to with the Internet.”

Sullivan worries that the only companies that can survive such regulation will be larger platforms, further calcifying the hold Big Tech platforms already have.

Decisions made in the US about internet regulation are also likely to reverberate around the world. Prateek Waghre, policy director at India’s Internet Freedom Foundation, says a ruling on Section 230 could set a precedent for other countries.

“It’s less about the details of the case,” says Waghre. “It’s more about [how] once you have a prescriptive regulation or precedent that comes from the United States, other countries, especially authoritarian ones, will use it to justify their own interventions.

The government of India is already taking steps to gain more control over content in the country, including establishing a government-appointed committee to moderate content and better enforce the country’s IT rules.

Waghre suspects that if platforms are required to implement policies and tools to comply with an amended or completely deleted Section 230, they will likely adopt the same methods and standards in other markets as well. In many countries around the world, major platforms, especially Facebook, are so ubiquitous that they essentially function like the internet for millions of people.

“Once you start doing something in one country, that’s used as precedent or reasoning to do the same thing in another,” he says.

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