Do you remember back in 2014 when Kim Kardashian appeared on the cover of Paper magazine? Photographed by Jean-Paul Goude, Kardashian glanced cheekily over her shoulder whilst naked, her famous posterior prominently displayed. The tagline for the provocative cover? BREAK THE INTERNET.
Fast forward to 2023 and imagine the same tableau—only this time it’s Justice Alito cheekily winking back at you (fully clothed, obviously—hopefully!). Yes, listeners. The Supreme Court may finally be the ones to break the internet.
Last week, the Court heard two cases that have the potential to shape the future of the internet as we know it. Both cases concern, to some degree, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The Act was passed to incentivize internet service providers to clean up their platforms—that is, to engage in some form of content moderation to prevent the then nascent worldwide web from becoming a cesspool. Here’s how it works: Section 230 encourages ISPs to engage in content moderation by not penalizing them if they make mistakes—that is, they engage in content moderation, but if they miss something or if they neglect to pull down offensive content, no harm no foul. Further, Section 230 doesn’t treat ISPs as “publishers” merely because they host platforms where users can post content that may be criminal, defamatory, or otherwise unlawful.