For families and conservatives, the stakes at the U.S. Supreme Court this year could not be higher. On Feb. 21, the high court will hear oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a case that could gut longstanding protections to both keep harmful content from children and preserve conservative speech online.
Gonzalez asks whether online services can be held liable under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for making recommendations using algorithms of third-party content to their users.
If the Court finds for Gonzalez, conservative views will be suppressed and American families will be bombarded with vile, harmful content.
That’s why I filed an amicus brief in support of Google, asking the court to preserve Section 230 in order to keep the internet safe and free for conservative news and views.
In the brief I explain that Section 230’s purpose is best seen by its original title: The Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act. I voted for this law in 1996 when I was in Congress.
I continue to support it now because it lives up to its original promises.
Section 230 empowers families to protect their children from vile content online.
As I have previously written, the internet is "a wide-open faucet for the worst user content, including bigotry, harassment, profanity, and pornographic images and videos."
Recommendation algorithms ensure a user who spends his or her time on children’s games alone will not receive content unsuitable for children and that a user who spends his or her time on Christian prayer forums will find recommendations appropriate for their interests.
But if Websites could be sued for making recommendations, suddenly those services would start displaying all content in a chronological "neutral" order.
In that circumstance, vile content and even terrorist recruitment material would receive the same exposure as family-friendly content, regardless of a user’s preferences.
When former-Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., authored Section 230, he understood the need for online services to "remove disincentives for the utilization of . . . technologies that empower parents to restrict their children’s access to objectionable or inappropriate online material."
Yet a ruling for Gonzalez would make it virtually impossible for parents to protect their children when they are online from content that offends to their values.
Despite what some say, Section 230 protects free speech online — including conservative speech. Rep. Cox wrote Section 230 to reflect First Amendment rights and values.
Americans’ ability to share diverse views, however controversial, is a critical bulwark against government tyranny.
Section 230 protects online services from liability over the user content they host.
Without Section 230’s protections, online services would restrict themselves to hosting only the most trivial and non-controversial content for fear of constant lawsuits.
But with Section 230, robust discussions flourish.
Companies can offer search results, customer reviews and user comments without getting pummeled with lawsuits for other people’s statements.
When we passed Section 230, we understood that filtering and organizing were essential for Websites that host large amounts of user content.
We had early versions of the algorithmic tools online services now use to organize and filter content today. In fact, we specifically contemplated the use of those tools in its grant of immunity to websites.
Yet contrary to the statute’s text and intent, Gonzalez and the Biden administration ask the Supreme Court to gut Section 230’s long standing protection for algorithmic recommendations.
If the Supreme Court agrees with Gonzalez and the Biden administration, conservative speech will become collateral damage.
Under a ruling for Gonzalez, online services large and small would limit their recommendations to only the content they consider non-controversial.
Conservatives know all too well what will happen next.
The left would immediately label all conservative content disinformation or "hate speech," with the able assistance of the Biden White House.
They would sue online services on day one for hosting conservative news and views that challenge prevailing progressive narratives on elections, gender ideology and climate change.
Liberal Big Tech would jump in line and shut down conservatives just like the rest of the main stream media.
Young conservatives don’t know and too many old warhorses have forgotten that aside from superstars like Rush Limbaugh ordinary conservatives had no voice in the media prior to Section 230.
It is in part because of recommendation algorithms, conservatives today overcome this suppression by turning to social media.
Conservatives like Ben Shapiro dominate the top spots on many social media Websites, and the Daily Wire and Newsmax have often received better engagement than mainstream publications on trending news stories.
It's clear we have an engaged and focused audience; the algorithmic systems at issue in Gonzalez use their engagement to guide their recommendations.
Whereas now online services have a financial incentive to boost our voices because of the engagement we bring them, a finding for Gonzalez will create a financial disincentive to host conservative voices.
True to its original title, Section 230 has enabled diverse online discourse and empowered families to protect their children online for nearly 30 years.
In an era where conservative views are constantly under attack by the woke left, we cannot afford to let this problem get worse by gutting Section 230.
To keep the internet safe and free, especially for conservative voices, the Supreme Court must reject Gonzalez and the Biden administration’s effort to gut Section 230.
Rick Santorum is Newsmax's Senior Political Analyst and served two terms in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
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