March 1, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether social media platforms should be held liable for the content posted by their users. We also look at the proposed forest bathing activity in Telangana, among other news.


Should social media platforms be liable for the content they carry?

Last week, the Supreme Court (SC) of the United States heard two cases about the role of Google, Youtube, Twitter and other interactive platforms in aiding and abetting terrorist activity. The court’s decision could make or break how we experience the internet today. And it all comes down to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Some argue that the law gives tech platforms a dangerous get-out-of-jail-free card, while others contend it protects free speech. So, which is it?

In a way, the internet’s principle of democratising voices proves a double-edged sword. In the same breath that it helped galvanise support for Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement, it also catalysed the Capitol Hill riots. With that said, it’s time we opened the black box that is social media.


With scores of platforms hosting at least 100 million users and tons of content, you would imagine the internet a disorganised space. But it’s not because social media platforms today have algorithms that help you access the content you want to see and stuff that keeps you hooked. It’s how we can access unlimited dog videos, hear obscure indie artists go viral, and attract an interested audience for our businesses.

This algorithm is the bone of contention in the recent SC hearings. In Gonzalez v. Google, a 2015 Paris terrorist attack victim’s family sued Google, alleging that YouTube must be liable for recommending ISIS recruitment videos to potential supporters. In Twitter v. Taamneh, the court heard a similar case against Twitter’s role in a 2017 terrorist attack in Turkey.

The crux of the petitioners’ arguments is that social media algorithms allow terrorist organisations to push their content toward a certain public vulnerable to radicalisation. The petitioners suggest that the content promoted on these platforms, based on would-be terrorists’ preferences, turns the latter to the dark side. What concerns some is that the court’s ruling could change Section 230 and, possibly, people’s relationship with the internet.

Section 230 was written in 1996, a time of technological optimism and Spice Girls’ supremacy. In 1995, when an investment firm sued Prodigy, a platform that sometimes moderated its content, for allowing a user to comment on the former’s president, the court ruled in the investment firm’s favour. But the move disincentivised companies from moderating any type of content, thus making the internet a cesspool of hate.

So we have the current iteration of the law that shields social media platforms and tech companies from being liable for third-party content posted on their platform. Now companies are free to moderate as they see fit and per the country’s norms.

A similar debate about social media and tech companies’ liability – although with different stakes – has been brewing in India, too, ever since MeiTY released the draft amendment to IT Rules 2021. Besides empowering the Press Information Bureau to censor content and handing the government a carte blanche over the news, the amendment also holds companies liable for content published on their platforms.

In the US, President Biden’s administration supports reforming Section 230, considering the changed scope of harm that social media algorithms can cause. First Amendment advocacy groups, however, argue that any change could be an affront to the First Amendment.

VIEW: Legal liability is the need of the hour

A lot has changed since 1996, and interactive media companies must keep up with the times. Petitioners argue that social media algorithms that push content do not fall under the act of publishing that Section 230 protects. When such platforms make recommendations, they are not just allowing content to exist but curating and promoting it. This warrants Google and Youtube to be held responsible in cases where the content is malicious and incites extremism. According to the Biden administration, recommendatory nudges like an auto-loaded sidebar are Youtube’s platform-design choices, for which Google must be legally responsible.

The two recent cases highlight the pressing need to formulate comprehensive legislation around accountability. In the past, similar charges were made against Meta for failing to reduce the spread of political polarisation and incitement of violence during the Capital Hill riots. Thanks to some whistleblowers, we now know that Big Tech has the resources and capacity to mitigate potentially destructive content.

Section 230, as it currently stands, is too broad, and it awards companies a free pass to ignore harmful content. Without legal liability, companies find it easy to turn a blind eye to the stuff they publish and promote. According to civil rights groups, the peddling of hate through social media algorithms threatens vulnerable communities in the US.

COUNTERVIEW: Increased liability can be disastrous

Tech platforms primarily argue that holding Youtube and Twitter legally liable in the present cases would leave the internet in a disastrous mess. If companies are held legally accountable for the content they push, it could cause unprecedented censorship and weeding out of anything even remotely objectionable to the law. Contrarily, legal liability could undo the recent efforts to restrict harmful content by disincentivising companies from monitoring anything on their platforms.

Rejigging the social media algorithms and user-generated content that form the backbone of modern online services will have disastrous consequences for a host of companies. The algorithm that allows companies to push preferential content makes it possible for billions of people to access information on search engines like Google without experiencing an information overload. Besides, liability would bring non-profits like Wikipedia to their knees.

Sceptics, like the ACLU and Knight Foundation, argue that content restrictions, as articulated in the Twitter case, will curtail free speech. Powerful and elite segments will have louder voices on the internet, while marginalised or subaltern voices will be pushed further into the corner.

Reference Links:

  • Should YouTube, Twitter Be More Responsible For Dangerous Content? Supreme Court Considers Tech Critics – Forbes
  • Should tech platforms be liable for the content they carry? – The Economist
  • Gonzalez v. Google – CATO Institute
  • Section 230, the internet law that’s under threat, explained – Vox
  • How the Centre’s planned IT rule changes will empower it to censor unfavourable news – Scroll

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Social media companies should be liable for the content they carry.

b) Social media companies should not be liable for the content they carry.


For the Right:

BJP’s sentinels aggressively defend image of leadership

For the Left:

Savarkar Was Truly ‘Veer’ and a Great Patriot


Houseboats to be introduced (Himachal Pradesh) – The government of Himachal Pradesh is planning to introduce houseboats as a new tourism product to attract more visitors to the region. The houseboats will be operated on the state’s major water bodies, including the Pong Dam, Bhakra Dam, and Chamera Dam. The project is expected to create new job opportunities and generate revenue for the state.

Why it matters: Himachal Pradesh is already a popular destination for tourists, with its scenic beauty and natural attractions. The addition of houseboats as a new tourism product will diversify tourism offerings and attract more visitors, especially those interested in water-based activities. However, the introduction of houseboats also has potential environmental and social impacts. The construction and operation of houseboats could lead to environmental degradation, and the influx of tourists could put pressure on local resources and infrastructure.

Urban forests for mental health (Telangana) – The government of Telangana is considering introducing “forest bathing” as a new activity in urban forest parks to promote mental and physical well-being among citizens. Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese practice that involves spending time in nature and immersing oneself in the natural environment.

Why it matters: In recent years, there has been growing evidence of the positive effects of spending time in nature, including reduced stress, improved mood, and increased physical activity. The introduction of forest bathing in urban forest parks could also have wider benefits for the environment and local communities. By promoting the use of green spaces and encouraging people to connect with nature, the government could potentially help to reduce air pollution, increase biodiversity, and improve the quality of life for residents.

Doctors in an adenovirus fix (West Bengal) – Doctors in West Bengal are growing increasingly concerned about the spread of adenovirus, a common cause of respiratory infections. There has been a significant rise in the number of adenovirus cases in the state, particularly among children and young adults. The virus is highly contagious, and doctors fear that the increasing spread of adenovirus could lead to a significant burden on the healthcare system, especially when Covid-19 has not yet been eliminated completely.

Why it matters: Adenovirus is a common virus that causes respiratory infections such as colds, sore throats, and bronchitis. While most people recover from adenovirus infections without complications, some cases can lead to more severe illness, especially in people with weakened immune systems. The increasing spread of adenovirus in West Bengal is a matter of concern because it can lead to a significant burden on the healthcare system. This can also result in increased absenteeism from work and school, as well as decreased productivity and economic output.

Future Citizens of the US (Gujarat) – In North Gujarat, people are planning trips to the US at particular times to deliver their babies on US soil to create a new community of Indian immigrants in the United States. So even if the parents don’t get US citizenship, their children become US citizens by birth, thereby securing them better futures, according to the perpetrators.

Why it matters: The whole project comes off as both desperate as well as absurd. While the promise of a good life in a country like the US is very tempting, the people associated with this project are seeing it as a rite of passage instead of an exception. According to one of the persons associated with this, it is mandatory for a man to have a job in the US for him to marry in his community.

Fire breaks out in school (Manipur) – Rowers based in the northeastern state of Manipur are defying all odds to excel in the sport at the national and international levels. Despite facing numerous challenges, such as a lack of infrastructure and support, these athletes have managed to make a mark in the highly competitive world of rowing.

Why it matters: The success of these rowers underscores the resilience and determination of athletes from marginalised communities, who are often forced to compete against more privileged and well-funded opponents. It also highlights the potential for sporting excellence in regions of India that are often overlooked or underrepresented in national and international competitions. While the country has produced numerous world-class athletes in a variety of disciplines, many of these athletes have had to overcome significant barriers to achieve success.


$3.9 billion – India approves the development of a hydropower project worth $3.9 billion near China border.