Two Supreme Court Cases That Could Break the Internet (2023)

In February, the Supreme Court will hear two cases—Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google—that could alter how the Internet is regulated, with potentially vast consequences. Both cases concern Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which grants legal immunity to Internet platforms for content posted by users. The plaintiffs in each case argue that platforms have violated federal antiterrorism statutes by allowing content to remain online. (There is a carve-out in Section 230 for content that breaks federal law.) Meanwhile, the Justices are deciding whether to hear two more cases—concerning laws in Texas and in Florida—about whether Internet providers can censor political content that they deem offensive or dangerous. The laws emerged from claims that providers were suppressing conservative voices.

To talk about how these cases could change the Internet, I recently spoke by phone with Daphne Keller, who teaches at Stanford Law School and directs the program on platform regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center. (Until 2015, she worked as an associate general counsel at Google.) During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed what Section 230 actually does, different approaches the Court may take in interpreting the law, and why every form of regulation by platforms comes with unintended consequences.

(Video) The Supreme Court Could Utterly Destroy the Internet

How much should people be prepared for the Supreme Court to substantively change the way the Internet functions?

We should be prepared for the Court to change a lot about how the Internet functions, but I think they could go in so many different directions that it’s very hard to predict the nature of the change, or what anybody should do in anticipation of it.

Until now, Internet platforms could allow users to share speech pretty freely, for better or for worse, and they had immunity from liability for a lot of things that their users said. This is the law colloquially known as Section 230, which is probably the most misunderstood, misreported, and hated law on the Internet. It provides immunity from some kinds of claims for platform liability based on user speech.

These two cases, Taamneh and Gonzalez, could both change that immunity in a number of ways. If you just look at Gonzalez, which is the case that’s squarely about Section 230, the plaintiff is asking for the Court to say that there’s no immunity once a platform has made recommendations and done personalized targeting of content. If the Court felt constrained only to answer the question that was asked, we could be looking at a world where suddenly platforms do face liability for everything that’s in a ranked news feed, for example, on Facebook or Twitter, or for everything that’s recommended on YouTube, which is what the Gonzalez case is about.

(Video) Supreme Court weighs case that could change federal elections

If they lost the immunity that they have for those features, we would suddenly find that the most used parts of Internet platforms or places where people actually go and see other users’ speech are suddenly very locked down, or very constrained to only the very safest content. Maybe we would not get things like a #MeToo movement. Maybe we would not get police-shooting videos being really visible and spreading like wildfire, because people are sharing them and they’re appearing in ranked news feeds and as recommendations. We could see a very big change in the kinds of online speech that are available on basically what is the front page of the Internet.

The upside is that there is really terrible, awful, dangerous speech at issue in these cases. The cases are about plaintiffs who had family members killed in ISIS attacks. They are seeking to get that kind of content to disappear from these feeds and recommendations. But a whole lot of other content would also disappear in ways that affect speech rights and would have different impacts on marginalized groups.

So the plaintiffs’ arguments come down to this idea that Internet platforms or social-media companies are not just passively letting people post things. They are packaging them and using algorithms and putting them forward in specific ways. And so they can’t just wash their hands and say they have no responsibility here. Is that accurate?

(Video) Supreme Court To Hear Case Of Web Designer Who Refused To Build A Site For Same-Sex Marriage

Yeah, I mean, their argument has changed dramatically even from one brief to the next. It’s a little bit hard to pin it down, but it’s something close to what you just said. Both sets of plaintiffs lost family members in ISIS attacks. Gonzalez went up to the Supreme Court as a question about immunity under Section 230. And the other one, Taamneh, goes up to the Supreme Court as a question along the lines of: If there were not immunity, would the platforms be liable under the underlying law, which is the Antiterrorism Act?

It sounds like you really have some concerns about these companies being liable for anything posted on their sites.

Absolutely. And also about them having liability for anything that is a ranked and amplified or algorithmically shaped part of the platform, because that’s basically everything.

The consequences seem potentially harmful, but, as a theoretical idea, it doesn’t seem crazy to me that these companies should be responsible for what is on their platforms. Do you feel that way, or do you feel that actually it’s too simplistic to say these companies are responsible?

(Video) 33 cases await decisions by the Supreme Court in coming weeks

I think it is reasonable to put legal responsibility on companies if it’s something they can do a good job of responding to. If we think that legal responsibility can cause them to accurately identify illegal content and take it down, that’s the moment when putting that responsibility on them makes sense. And there are some situations under U.S. law where we do put that responsibility on platforms, and I think rightly so. For example, for child-sexual-abuse materials, there’s no immunity under federal law or under Section 230 from federal criminal claims. The idea is that this content is so incredibly harmful that we want to put responsibility on platforms. And it’s extremely identifiable. We’re not worried that they are going to accidentally take down a whole bunch of other important speech. Similarly, we as a country choose to prioritize copyright as a harm that the law responds to, but the law puts a bunch of processes in place to try to keep platforms from just willy-nilly taking down anything that is risky, or where someone makes an accusation.

So there are situations where we put the liability on platforms, but there’s no good reason to think that they would do a good job of identifying and removing terrorist content in a situation where the immunity just goes away. I think we would have every reason to expect, in that situation, that a bunch of lawful speech about things like U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, or Syrian immigration policy, would disappear, because platforms would worry that it might create liability. And the speech that disappears would disproportionately come from people who are speaking Arabic or talking about Islam. There’s this very foreseeable set of problems from putting this particular set of legal responsibilities onto platforms, given the capacities that they have right now. Maybe there’s some future world where there’s better technology or better involvement of courts in deciding what comes down, or something such that the worry about the unintended consequences reduces, and then we do want to put the obligations on platforms. But we’re not there now.

How has Europe dealt with these issues? It seems like they are putting pressure on tech companies to be transparent.

Europe recently had the legal situation these plaintiffs are asking for. Europe had one big piece of legislation that governed platform liability, which was enacted in 2000. It’s called the E-Commerce Directive. And it had this very blunt idea that if platforms “know” about illegal content, then they have to take it down in order to preserve immunity. And what they discovered, unsurprisingly, is that the law led to a lot of bad-faith accusations by people trying to silence their competitors or people they disagree with online. It leads to platforms being willing to take down way too much stuff to avoid risk and inconvenience. And so the European lawmakers overhauled that in a law called the Digital Services Act, to get rid of or at least try to get rid of the risks of a system that tells platforms they can make themselves safe by silencing their users.

(Video) Supreme Court hears arguments in case that could upend election rules | full audio


What are 2 very important Supreme Court cases? ›

Supreme Court Landmarks
  • Board of Education of Independent School District #92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (2002) ...
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ...
  • Cooper v. Aaron (1958) ...
  • Engel v. Vitale (1962) ...
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) ...
  • Goss v. Lopez (1975) ...
  • Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) ...
  • Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

What are 2 examples of the types of cases that the Supreme Court would hear? ›

The United States Supreme Court is a federal court, meaning in part that it can hear cases prosecuted by the U.S. government. (The Court also decides civil cases.) The Court can also hear just about any kind of state-court case, as long as it involves federal law, including the Constitution.

What are the five most important Supreme Court cases? ›

Landmark United States Supreme Court Cases
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803) ...
  • McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) ...
  • Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) ...
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ...
  • Schenck v. United States (1919) ...
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ...
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) ...
  • Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

What is a 230 case? ›

Section 230 protect a blog host from liability for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is ...

What did Marbury v Madison do? ›

With his decision in Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall established the principle of judicial review, an important addition to the system of “checks and balances” created to prevent any one branch of the Federal Government from becoming too powerful.

Who won Marbury v Madison? ›

On February 24, 1803, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous 4–0 decision against Marbury. The Court's opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall, who structured the Court's opinion around a series of three questions it answered in turn: First, did Marbury have a right to his commission?

What was a result of Gibbons v Ogden? ›

In this decision, Chief Justice John Marshall's Court ruled that Congress has the power to “regulate commerce” and that federal law takes precedence over state laws.

What is an example of a famous controversial Supreme Court case? ›

Plessy v.

In terms of decisions that changed the landscape of American life, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) tops the list. Brown famously overturned the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which a very different Supreme Court blessed the segregationist doctrine of “separate but equal” as constitutional.

What is an example of what has been found by the Supreme Court to be cruel and unusual punishment? ›

Coker v. Georgia. A case in which the Court ruled that use of the capital punishment as a penalty for rape was a form of cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment.

What is the most significant Supreme Court case? ›

Brown v. Board of Education is perhaps one of the most famous cases to have gone through the US Supreme Court. The landmark 1954 case saw justices rule unanimously that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

Why was Plessy v Ferguson important? ›

The ruling in this Supreme Court case upheld a Louisiana state law that allowed for "equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races." During the era of Reconstruction, Black Americans' political rights were affirmed by three constitutional amendments and numerous laws passed by Congress.

What is the most influential Supreme Court case? ›

Here are 45 of the most important cases the Supreme Court has ever decided.
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803) ...
  • Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) ...
  • Worcester v. Georgia (1832) ...
  • Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) ...
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ...
  • Munn v. Illinois (1877) ...
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ...
  • Lochner v. New York (1905)
Nov 24, 2022

What did McCulloch v Maryland do? ›

The court decided that the Federal Government had the right and power to set up a Federal bank and that states did not have the power to tax the Federal Government. Marshall ruled in favor of the Federal Government and concluded, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy."

What caused McCulloch v Maryland? ›

In 1818, however, the Maryland legislature voted to impose a tax on all banks within the state that were not chartered by the legislature. The Second Bank of the United States refused to comply with the law, resulting in a lawsuit against its head, James William McCulloch.

Who was involved in the case of Gibbons v Ogden? ›

Thomas Gibbons -- a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New Jersey under a federal coastal license – formed a partnership with Ogden, which fell apart after three years when Gibbons operated another steamboat on a New York route belonging to Ogden.

Why did Marbury lose his case? ›

majority opinion by John Marshall. Though Marbury was entitled to it, the Court was unable to grant it because Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with Article III Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and was therefore null and void.

Was Marbury v Madison unconstitutional? ›

Madison, legal case in which, on February 24, 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court first declared an act of Congress unconstitutional, thus establishing the doctrine of judicial review. The court's opinion, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, is considered one of the foundations of U.S. constitutional law.

Why was United States v Lopez 1995 important? ›

U.S. v. Lopez is a particularly significant case because it marked the first time in half a century that the Court held Congress had overstepped its power under the Commerce Clause.

What was the significance of NFIB v Sebelius? ›

The Court determined that the individual mandate was not valid under the Commerce Clause because Congress cannot use that power to require someone to buy health insurance. However, the Court did uphold it as a valid use of Congress' taxing power, treating the penalty for failure to purchase insurance as a tax.

What was the Gibbons case of 1824? ›

Ogden, (1824), U.S. Supreme Court case establishing the principle that states cannot, by legislative enactment, interfere with the power of Congress to regulate commerce.

What happened in the Miranda v Arizona case? ›

In a 5-4 Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona (1966) ruled that an arrested individual is entitled to rights against self-discrimination and to an attorney under the 5th and 6th Amendments of the United States Constitution.

What was the issue in Mapp v Ohio? ›

OHIO, decided on 20 June 1961, was a landmark court case originating in Cleveland, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the 4th and 14th Constitutional amendments, illegally seized evidence could not be used in a state criminal trial.

What case overturned Roe v. Wade? ›

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (2022), the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. Some state constitutions, however, independently protect abortion rights.

What happened in Furman v Georgia? ›

Georgia, a 1972 landmark Supreme Court decision that declared the death penalty unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The ruling effectively nullified all existing death sentences and halted all executions for a four-year period.

What happened in Gregg v Georgia? ›

A jury found Gregg guilty of armed robbery and murder and sentenced him to death. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence except as to its imposition for the robbery conviction.

What did Furman v Georgia do? ›

Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) The death penalty is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when it is imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner that leads to discriminatory results.

Was Roe v Wade a civil case? ›

Her lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. federal court against her local district attorney, Henry Wade, alleging that Texas's abortion laws were unconstitutional.
Roe v. Wade
Full case nameJane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County
24 more rows

What are some important cases the Supreme Court has heard? ›

Recent Decisions
  • In re Grand Jury (January 23, 2023)
  • Arellano v. McDonough (January 23, 2023) ...
  • Biden v. Texas (June 30, 2022) ...
  • West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (June 30, 2022) ...
  • Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety (June 29, 2022)

What are the 3 main kinds of cases that the Supreme Court will hear? ›

Below are some of the factors the Supreme Court typically considers when deciding what cases to hear:
  • The Court will hear cases to resolve a conflict of law. ...
  • The Court will hear cases that are of great public importance. ...
  • The Court hears cases when lower courts ignore Supreme Court precedent.
Aug 19, 2014

What was the significance of the Dred Scott vs Sandford? ›

Missouri's Dred Scott Case, 1846-1857. In its 1857 decision that stunned the nation, the United States Supreme Court upheld slavery in United States territories, denied the legality of black citizenship in America, and declared the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional.

Did Plessy win the case? ›

At trial, Plessy's lawyers argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The judge found that Louisiana could enforce this law insofar as it affected railroads within its boundaries. Plessy was convicted.

What was Plessy vs Brown? ›

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that separate accommodations based on race was constitutional. 58 years later in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka (1954) the court ruled that separate accommodations based on race were inherently unequal and so unconstitutional.

What was the fastest court case ever? ›

Answer: Unbelievably, one minute! According to Guinness World Records, on 22 July 2004 Nicholas McAllister was acquitted in New Zealand's Greymouth District Court of growing cannabis plants. The jury left to consider the verdict at 3.28pm and returned at 3.29 pm.

What was the largest court case in history? ›

Lasting for more than fifty years, the Myra Clark Gaines litigation is known as the longest case in US history, beginning around 1834 and culminating in a ruling in her favor and against the City of New Orleans in 1889.

What was one important Supreme Court case? ›

This is a pairing of Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1896 case and Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, probably the most famous of all civil rights cases, the Brown case. The 1896 Plessy case was a case in which the Supreme Court reviewed a state law requiring racial segregation.

What was the effect of the Supreme Court case Mcculloch v Maryland? ›

The court decided that the Federal Government had the right and power to set up a Federal bank and that states did not have the power to tax the Federal Government. Marshall ruled in favor of the Federal Government and concluded, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy."

What is the most interesting court case? ›

10 Weird and Wonderful Cases Every Law Student Should Know About
  1. Miller v Jackson. ...
  2. Carlill v the Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. ...
  3. Leonard v PepsiCo. ...
  4. Proctor & Gamble v HM Revenue & Customs. ...
  5. Re A (conjoined twins) ...
  6. R v Dudley and Stephens. ...
  7. Hollywood Silver Fox Farm v Emmett. ...
  8. R v Thabo-Meli.

What was the biggest court case in history? ›

Madison (1803) Marbury v. Madison is considered to be one of the most important cases in Supreme Court history. This case was the first to apply the principle known as judicial review which gives federal courts the authority to overturn acts of Congress that are in violation of the Constitution.

What are the two Supreme Court cases that impacted the 1st Amendment? ›

Brandeis's concurring opinion in defense of free speech in Whitney v. California (1927) has become a milestone in First Amendment... In Burns v. United States (1927), with companion cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the California Syndicalism Act did not violate the First Amendment...

What was the Supreme Court 5 4 decision today? ›

Wathc: The US Supreme Court rules 5-4 to keep the Title 42 border restrictions in place. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court's three liberals in dissent. Gorsuch faulted the majority for using a public-heath provision to address broader immigration issues.

What are the 7 types of cases the Supreme Court hears? ›

Federal courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction in cases involving (1) the Constitution, (2) violations of federal laws, (3) controversies between states, (4) disputes between parties from different states, (5) suits by or against the federal government, (6) foreign governments and treaties, (7) admiralty and ...

What are 2 kinds of legal cases? ›

Types of Court Cases
  • Criminal Cases.
  • Civil Cases.


1. Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases challenging affirmative action
(CBS News)
2. Supreme Court weighs LGBTQ discrimination case
(CBS News)
3. The Next CME Could Destroy the Internet
(Kyle Hill)
4. Robert Kiyosaki 2019 - The Speech That Broke The Internet!!! KEEP THEM POOR!
5. Awaiting Supreme Court ruling on first Second Amendment case in years
(CBS News)
6. CBS News coverage: Tyre Nichols arrest video released
(CBS News)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Ms. Lucile Johns

Last Updated: 03/03/2023

Views: 6038

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Ms. Lucile Johns

Birthday: 1999-11-16

Address: Suite 237 56046 Walsh Coves, West Enid, VT 46557

Phone: +59115435987187

Job: Education Supervisor

Hobby: Genealogy, Stone skipping, Skydiving, Nordic skating, Couponing, Coloring, Gardening

Introduction: My name is Ms. Lucile Johns, I am a successful, friendly, friendly, homely, adventurous, handsome, delightful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.