Op-Ed: The Supreme Court could upend the internet. How? By making social media platforms like Facebook liable for its users who post hate speech.
The internet is a fascinating, sprawling social network that keeps us connected to our friends, to news sites and to brands. Yet these internet-based communications can also be harmful. As the internet has exploded in popularity, so too has the ability of anonymous and hateful individuals to communicate far more quickly and widely than ever before.
Hateful speech includes speech that is illegal, or that might be said to be illegal, and that contains potentially objectionable content. The internet is a space designed to protect free expression: It is an arena where opinions and ideas can get heard and debated in a way that they cannot in traditional “real life.” But as the internet has expanded into the digital world, it has often also opened up new spaces for hate speech.
That’s the issue that the Supreme Court is likely to decide in the second half of this year; their ruling, if it came to this, would be a potentially enormous and transformative step for the internet.
What is the internet?
The internet is essentially the world wide web. It’s the backbone of the internet, the way it transmits data and it’s the site where all webpages are stored, indexed and displayed. We use search engines to search for things online—search engines like Google are a big part of the internet. We use apps to shop, to plan travel, to get news, to share media—a whole lot of us.
Then there’s social media platforms like Facebook. A big part of Facebook’s business is to help people connect with one another, but Facebook is increasingly a hub for sharing and organizing things.
How did that happen?
The internet has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, as more and more people use the internet every single day. It is also used by businesses and brands to communicate with their customers, as well as to connect with people online.
But the internet is not just about communications. It’s also, to a large extent, an echo chamber: it’s a space where opinions and ideas can get heard and debated in a way they cannot in traditional “real life.”
That’s the space that the Supreme Court is likely to rule in the next few decades that it has defined