ACLU Applauds U.S. Supreme Court’s Unanimous Decisions Protecting Digital Free Speech

By Cheyenne Galloway 

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union Thursday applauded the unanimous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases concerning digital free speech.

The decisions, said the ACLU, will preserve citizens’ first amendment concerning free speech online.

The ACLU said its amicus brief argued the court needed “to ensure online platforms are free to promote, demote and recommend content without legal risk to protect political discourse, cultural development, and intellectual activity.”

The ACLU said the court cases include Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google. 

In the Twitter v Taamneh case, Twitter was accused of “aiding and abetting” an ISIS strike in Istanbul, and condoning terrorist rhetoric by failing to get rid of content that promoted terrorism, albeit Twitter reps were unaware of the post glorifying terrorism, explained the ACLU.

According to ACLU, “If the Supreme Court allowed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ startlingly broad interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Act to stand, online intermediaries — like internet service providers, social media platforms, publishers, and other content distributors — would be forced to suppress the First Amendment – protected speech of many of their users.”

The ACLU added that because of the sheer number of users on social media platforms, it would be unfeasible for online intermediaries to closely monitor content and mediate issues surrounding specific topics without completely restricting peoples’ rights.

Even with the regulations for online content today, platforms often unintentionally deny free speech to users by confusing non-threatening and docile content as “offensive,” for example, a post depicting a mosque could be flagged as terroristic, said the ACLU.

The decision made in the Twitter v Taamneh case erased the viability of the remaining Gonzalez v. Google, noted the ACLU, adding the Supreme Court deemed it unnecessary to address the dispute introduced in the latter.

“The court remanded the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether any part of the plaintiffs’ argument could move forward in light of the Twitter ruling,” the ACLU said in a statement.

“With this decision, free speech online lives to fight another day. Twitter and other apps are home to an immense amount of protected speech, and it would be devastating if those platforms resorted to censorship to avoid a deluge of lawsuits over their users’ posts,” said the deputy director of ACLU’s National Security Project, Patrick Toomey.

Toomey added, “Today’s decisions should be commended for recognizing that the rules we apply to the internet should foster free expression, not suppress it.”

About The Author

Cheyenne Galloway recently graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a double major in Political Science and Italian Studies. Graduating at the top of her class and achieving the distinction Laurea cum laude in her Italian Studies major, she showcases her enthusiasm for knowledge, finding ways to think critically and creatively. She is particularly interested in writing and reporting on social justice and human rights, but as a writing/reporting generalist, she enjoys researching and communicating various topics through written expression.

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