Last week, the Justice Department urged a federal judge to uphold Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect YouTube in an ongoing lawsuit with some of its content creators.
This lawsuit began in June 2020 when four black content creators filed a class action against Google’s YouTube alleging that the platform had been systematically removing their content and engaging in “overt, intentional, and systematic racial discrimination” against them. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by plaintiffs Kimberly Carleste Newman, Lisa Cabrera, Catherine Jones, and Denotra Nicole Lewis.
These content creators alleged that YouTube was restricting and de-monetizing videos that included titles or tags like “black lives matter,” “racism,” and “white supremacy.”
Not only did plaintiffs ask for damages and restitution, but they also argued that providing Google protection under Section 230 would be unconstitutional and called for a declaration that Section 230 can’t be used to protect YouTube from discrimination claims.
Section 230 is an amendment of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that holds that an “interactive computer service” cannot be treated as the publisher of third-party content. This means that companies and websites are protected from lawsuits if a user comments or posts something illegal on their site. Essentially, Section 230 holds users responsible for what they write rather than the company that hosts their comment online. In addition to this, Section 230 affirms that private companies have the right to remove content from their site that violates their values.
The content creators in this lawsuit contended that Section 230 violates the First Amendment by enabling Google to suppress speech based on viewpoint.
Last week, the Department of Justice filed papers urging U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose to reject this argument from the content creators. This came after Koh invited the Department of Justice to weigh in on the case since the plaintiffs were arguing the constitutionality of a federal law.
In these papers, government lawyers from the Justice Department urged Koh to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of Section 230 but that if it were necessary for her to do so in order to make a decision, she should reject the content creators’ challenge to the law.
“If the court were to reach the constitutional question, it should conclude that plaintiffs’ challenge fails on the merits,” the Justice Department wrote.