Nine wise men will examine a file linked to the November 2015 attacks in Paris from 10:00 a.m. (3:00 p.m. GMT), which could have major consequences for the future of the Internet.
It stems from a complaint filed against Google by relatives of Nohemy Gonzalez, one of the 130 victims of the attacks. A student in France, a young American, was killed by an Islamic State (IS) group commando at the Belle Equipe bar.
Her parents accuse the Californian company YouTube of recommending the jihadist group’s videos to some of its users. According to them, “By recommending ISIS videos to its users, Google helped ISIS spread its message and thus gave it material support”.
However, their complaint was rejected by the federal courts under a law called “Section 230”, which was passed when the Internet was in its infancy and became one of its main features.
It dictates that Internet companies cannot be considered “publishers” and enjoy statutory exemptions for the content they publish.
For those close to Nohemi Gonzalez, Google is not satisfied with distributing IS content because its service chose to provide users with videos from the jihadist group, so it cannot claim this immunity.
“The selection of recommended users IS videos by algorithms developed and managed by YouTube”, they argue in an appeal sent to the Supreme Court to confirm their opinion.
By agreeing to take it up, the High Court, which has dismissed most of the cases presented to it, has signaled its willingness to change the case law.
The prospect is causing cold sweats in the tech world.
“Recommendations made by algorithms find needles in humanity’s biggest haystack,” Google wrote to the court, asking them not to “weaken the core of the modern web.”
“Allowing sites to sue for referrals (…) would expose them to complaints for third-party content all the time,” Meta said in a separate argument.
According to them, recommendations are only used to bring order, to organize the content posted online, but editing is not yet done.
On Wednesday, the Temple of American Law will continue its reflection on a very related file, but it raises a different legal question: Absent Section 230, the sites could be condemned under anti-terrorism laws, even if they don’t. Not directly supporting the attack?
The court has to deliver both judgments by June 30.
In the past, several of its judges have expressed their willingness to change their reading of Article 230, even as increasingly competitive party divisions in the political arena prevent any legislative evolution.
In 2021, the more conservative Clarence Thomas lamented that “courts have interpreted the law too broadly and given too broad immunity to some of the world’s largest corporations”.
So, it seems that the Supreme Court will move faster than the Congress. But for now, “nobody knows exactly how,” notes Tom Wheeler, an expert at the Brookings Institution think tank. “That’s why it’s important to see how the investigation unfolds,” he told AFP.
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