DOJ Attacks Google in High Court Social Media Lawsuit

A stance that threatens Google’s argument in a case that might change the role of content moderation on digital platforms is the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) warning to the Supreme Court. 

The injunction is against an extensive reading of a statute protecting social media firms from responsibility for what users post on their sites, according to CNBC’s report.

DOJ vs. Google

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the DOJ issued a preliminary brief led by Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn a lower court decision that found Google was immune from liability under US antiterrorism law due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

To protect themselves from liability for the information posted by their users, internet platforms may use good faith content moderation under Section 230. 

Since the sheer nature of social media sites makes it impossible to capture every detrimental post swiftly, tech firms claim it is a crucial precaution, particularly for smaller sites that may otherwise face expensive legal disputes.

Legislators on both sides have argued that the scope of the immunity shield should be severely reduced, making this statute a political flashpoint. 

However, many Democrats have issues with legislation protecting platforms that host misinformation and hate speech. 

Many Republicans feel the content moderation provisions of the law should be scaled down to minimize what they say is suppression of conservative viewpoints.

The Case in Question

Family members of American citizen Nohemi Gonzalez, who was killed in a 2015 terrorist attack for which ISIS took responsibility, filed a lawsuit against Google in the Supreme Court under the name Gonzalez v. Google.

The file claims the company did not do enough to prevent ISIS from using YouTube to spread propaganda and recruit new members.

Under the Antiterrorism Act of 1990, the plaintiffs filed accusations against Google.

Notably, the law was amended in 2016 to extend secondary civil liability to “any person who aids and abets, by knowingly providing substantial assistance” to “an act of international terrorism.” 

Gonzalez’s loved ones say the video-sharing website did not take sufficient steps to stop the dissemination of ISIS politics. 

They claim that YouTube should have prevented ISIS from utilizing the site and should have done a better job of monitoring material to ensure it did not include any terrorist propaganda.

Read Also: Meta to Remove News off Facebook if US Congress Approves Media Bill

DOJ’s Argument

Having material hosted by Google is not liable for under Section 230, according to both the district and appeals courts.

The DOJ suggested the appeals court’s verdict be overturned and sent back to the lower court for additional review. But, it took no opinion on whether Google should be held accountable in the end. 

The agency reasoned that although Section 230 would preclude plaintiffs’ antiterrorism claims based on YouTube’s claimed refusal to ban ISIS videos, the statute does not prevent claims based on YouTube’s targeted recommendations of ISIS material.

The DOJ said the appeals court was right to determine Section 230 exempted YouTube from responsibility for enabling ISIS-affiliated users to submit videos since it did not edit or create the films. 

YouTube’s use of algorithms and similar criteria to suggest ISIS material requires a distinct study, it said. 

Nonetheless, the DOJ stated the appeals court did not fully evaluate whether the plaintiffs’ allegations may support responsibility under that basis. Thus, the Supreme Court should return the case to them.

Read Also: Pentagon Awards Google, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft $9 Billion Contracts to Build a Cloud Computing Network for the US Military

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