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The Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit over Section 230, the law the internet loves to hate

The statute protects tech companies from lawsuits over user-generated content.

If the court breaks with the long-running legal interpretation of Section 230, it could fundamentally change how the internet — and particularly social media sites — functions.

This is the first time the Supreme Court has grappled with Section 230. The court, whose latest term began on Monday, has not yet scheduled oral arguments for the case.

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In the case of Gonzalez v. Google, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Google last year, even as it raised concerns about Section 230 more generally.

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Legal and technology experts agree that Section 230 has enabled the growth of the modern internet. Social media and newspaper comment sections, for instance, likely wouldn’t exist — or at least, not in the form we’re used to — without the liability shield the law affords to companies for statements users make on their platforms.

Tech companies have fought hard against any reinterpretation or revision of the hotly contested law that could upend their business models. In an appearance before two House committees last year, for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested that the law could be limited to companies following “best practices.”

Members of Congress from both parties have offered a bevy of potential reforms. They range from something similar to Facebook’s plan — creating conditions by which companies can qualify for Section 230 protections — to carving out specific exceptions to the law.

One bill, the Earn It Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would force companies to “earn” Section 230 protections, forfeiting them for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material (CSAM), even though companies are already legally bound to report such content on their platform. But it is not clear whether the legislation has enough support to become law.

Misinformation: On the internet, lies spread as easily as the truth

Section 230 shields companies from liability over content posted by their users. But it also allows them to take content down as long as they act in good faith.

That has placed the law at the center of the roiling debate in the United States over what constitutes harmful misinformation, especially on topics like politics and the covid pandemic, and whether tech companies are doing enough to address its proliferation.

Last year, for instance, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) introduced legislation that would hold social media companies responsible for spreading public health misinformation during a federally declared public health emergency.

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