Gonzalez Vs. Google asks the question: Who is liable for harmful content?

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 4:58 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the case of Gonzalez Vs. Google. It asks the fundamental question, should someone be able to sue a tech company if their algorithm promotes harmful content?

The case stems from the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.

An American exchange student was killed, and the family blames YouTube for the ISIS videos that radicalized the gunman.

Since 1996, Tech companies have been protected by something called rule 230 that allows you to sue a user for putting something on a platform, but not the company for hosting the content.

Gonzalez family lawyers argued that YouTube not only hosted, but promoted those ISIS videos.

“If I say play for me an ISIS video and they just directly play the video, then what they’ve done falls within the language of the statute,” said Eric Schnapper.

He argued that the algorithm came up with a playlist of similar ISIS videos - which snowballed into the gunmen being radicalized.

Cyber Security expert Matthew Curtin believes that if rule 230 is rescinded and Google is forced to clamp down on content - it can only mean censorship.

“Anything that is going to reduce information availability is going to be a tool that somebody is using to suppress a viewpoint that they don’t like. And that has never worked out well for us in the history of our species,” said Curtin.

During questioning, several justices questioned whether the decision about opening up tech companies to legal liability is theirs to make.

“These are not the nine greatest experts on the internet,” said Justice Elena Kagan.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a very similar case on Wednesday, but that one deals with Twitter. Those opinions are expected out in June.