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Internet for change? – The Hindu Business Line


The United States Supreme Court has decided to hear a high-stakes case that could fundamentally change the internet.

The Gonzalez vs. Google The case arose due to the murder of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American law student studying in Paris, during an Islamic State attack that killed 129 people in November 2015.

Nohemi’s family sued Google alleging that ISIS posted “hundreds of radicalizing videos inciting violence and recruiting potential supporters” on Google-owned YouTube, and that YouTube’s algorithms promoted these videos. content from “users whose characteristics indicated that they would be interested in Islamic State videos”.

Well, we know that the algorithms behind the scenes determine the content we see on social media, the websites we find on search engines, as well as the advertisements.

This isn’t the first time such allegations have been leveled against YouTube, however. In a 2018 article in The New York Timessociologist Zeynep Tufekci has warned that “YouTube could be one of the most powerful instruments of radicalization of the 21st century” due to the propensity of its algorithms to deliver increasingly extreme versions of the content its users decide to watch .

Looking back

Let’s take a look at the historical context in the making of today’s Internet laws. In 1959, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Eleazer Smith, a bookstore owner in Los Angeles, who was convicted and sentenced to 30 days in prison for selling the pulp novel. Sweeter than life by Mark Tryon, which was illegal.

The Supreme Court, of course, ruled that the Los Angeles order violated the First Amendment. It was the pre-internet era, that’s for sure.

Then, in the Stratton Oakmont, Inc v Prodigy Services Co In 1995, the New York Supreme Court’s ruling that online service providers could be held liable for the speech of their users changed many early proponents of the Internet, including some lawmakers. The Prodigy the case could have been instrumental in crafting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in 1996.

Interestingly, Rep. Chris Cox of California, a Republican, and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, jointly inserted a clause into the sweeping telecommunications bill that was then before Congress. . It certainly helped internet businesses thrive in the early days of web hosting services.

26 words

Cybersecurity law professor Jeff Kosseff wrote a book in 2019 titled The twenty-six words that created the Internet. The 26 words are: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service should be considered the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Thus, a CD-ROM era law has remained the backbone of the modern internet mechanism.

Social media companies have so far been shielded from legal liability under Section 230, and so Google cannot be sued for posting anyone on one of its websites. But the Gonzalez lawsuit argues that while YouTube may have legal protection for hosting anything its users post on it, it shouldn’t have protection for its machine-learning “recommendation” algorithms that prescribe what users post on it. viewers should see next. What if the bookseller recommends a book to a buyer?

Exactly 26 years have passed since the 26 words that “created” the Internet were formulated. The Internet giants are by no means in their formative stage. And they are the victims of various issues – from antitrust and privacy to misinformation, algorithmic discrimination and lack of transparency.

Is it time for a paradigm shift in the way the internet works? In the Gonzalez vs. Google case, the United States Supreme Court could potentially decide the fate of the modern Internet in several ways.

The author is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata