Should YouTube be responsible for its recommendation algorithms?
To be able to follow recent events regarding Google’s argument with Section 230, we need to remind you of two important turning points:
- “Section 230” is a part of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) passed by the US Congress in 1996. Its aim was to enable free speech on the internet, ensuring that tech giants such as Google and Facebook don’t have responsibility over what users post on their platforms. As the internet evolved, especially in social media terms, new regulations became necessary. And that’s where we move on to key point #2;
- The family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old US citizen who was among 129 people killed in coordinated attacks by the Islamic State group in Paris in November 2015, sued Google’s YouTube service for violating a federal anti-terrorism law by recommending IS videos to other users.
The issue here is clear. We’re not talking about average users getting song recommendations that they don’t particularly like; we’re talking about video recommendations that can have real consequences, and reliving the trauma is just one of them.
In fact, Google VS Gonzales is the first time the Supreme Court has reconsidered Section 230 since its passage in 1996.
So, what’s YouTube’s side of the story?
On Thursday, January 12th, Google argued that the Supreme Court decision could “transform the internet for the worse.” Meaning that, if this rule is applied in general, the online space would look drastically different, that is, if the companies are even able to regulate the virtual space to that extent.
Websites like Google and Etsy depend on algorithms to sift through mountains of user-created content and display content likely relevant to each user. If plaintiffs could evade [Section 230] by targeting how websites sort content or trying to hold users liable for liking or sharing articles, the internet would devolve into a disorganized mess and a litigation minefield.
Google’s official statement
In other words, the company’s opinion is that algorithmically generated YouTube recommendations should be exempt from Section 230.
Again, the subject here is not harmless video recommendations but clearly offensive and disturbing content, violating the US anti-terrorism law by recommending pro-ISIS YouTube videos to users.
Now, what’s important to emphasize is that Section 230 protects tech giants from content moderation decisions. However, the mentioned algorithms are AI-based, which means they should not undergo Section 230.
Considering that Google is clearly not in favor of this decision, and considering the power they have, it all goes down to the question – do we want Google to get mad?
Or, more importantly, which side does the president himself take?
Will Biden’s administration interference affect the verdict?
As mentioned in our article tackling the original story, Section 230 is one of the few points that Republicans and Democrats agree on.
We know that Trump claimed that Section 230 allows platforms to censor Conservatives, but what is the opinion of the current president Joe Biden?
There’s news on that front, as well.
Namely, on Wednesday, January 11th, Biden published an op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal on this exact matter. How he sees it, the Section 230 liability shield should not extend to recommendation algorithms.
To support that thesis, he claimed that tech giants should take more responsibility for the content on their platforms, especially their AI-driven content algorithms.
Moreover, he underlined that he’s concerned about how some in the tech industry are deepening extremism and polarization in the US.
As my administration works to address these challenges with the legal authority we have, I urge Democrats and Republicans to come together to pass strong bipartisan legislation to hold Big Tech accountable.
Joe Biden, in an op-ed published in WSJ
Now, why is there an emphasis on bipartisan legislation?
Because it has the strongest odds of passage in the new Congress.
To answer the heading question – yes, Biden’s administration could affect the final verdict. Still, even if all parties agree, it will take a while before becoming a law.
Section 230 is known as “the 26 words that created the internet”; but are these words written in stone?
And will the internet itself be the one to create a new, more adequate definition of the online space?