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Twitter case raises questions about defamation and social media

| Jul 1, 2020 | Commercial Litigation |

Social media giant Twitter is back in court, facing allegations of defamation from a United States Congressman. The Congressman, Devin Nunes of California, claims Twitter was guilty of defamation when it allowed content posted by third-party users to go live. Twitter counters that the court should throw the case out as federal law protects against such claims.

What is the federal law Twitter claims offers protection?

Twitter claims Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity. The law states online platforms cannot be held liable for the content posted by users. Although it allows online platforms to moderate the content as needed, courts are debating how far this exception reaches before the platform is in full control of the content. Once in full control, courts will next need to decide whether or not the platform should bear responsibility for the content.

Is this the first time this type of dispute has gone to court?

Other cases with a similar set of facts have gone through the legal system and often result in a win for the online platform. However, in this case, the Congressman argues there are two key differences. First, Twitter has the ability to pick and choose what content goes live. As a result, they may have more control compared to other platforms in previous cases. Second, Twitter also uses algorithms to rank content, putting some above others. These two factors could potentially remove the protection granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

What impact will this case have on the rest of the country?

The outcome of this case may provide some guidance as to the reach of the protections granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Depending on the ruling, it may fuel a surge in defamation cases.