Tech on Trial: Supreme Court to Decide if YouTube is Responsible for Death of 23-Year-Old

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Silicon Valley technology took center stage in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday with one question dangling in the air -- is YouTube responsible for the death of a 23-year old American exchange student killed in 2015 by Islamic State gunmen in a terrorist attack?

The high court is trying to determine whether YouTube, by promoting content from the Islamic State on its platform, is partly responsible for the tragedy that followed.

If so, it would at least partially overturn something called Section 230, which protects sites like YouTube when it comes to outside content posted on the site.

"Every other industry has to internalize the cost of its conduct, why is it that the tech industry gets a pass?” said Justice Elena Kagan. 

But the lawyer for Google, which owns YouTube, told the court Section 230 is crucial to an open internet.

"This is about diversity of viewpoints, jump starting an industry, having information flourishing on the internet, and free speech,” said Katanji Brown Jackson.

"Section 230 is one of these foundational laws of the internet,” said Adam Kovacevich, founder  & CEO of Chamber of Progress

And for 27 years, it has protected tech companies from lawsuits like this one.

Tech-watchers say if it goes away, it would mean fewer recommendations, and a more closed-off, tightly regulated internet.

“That would mean way less controversial political opinions, it also means less room for activists, whistleblowers, niche content, and I think that's a lot of what makes the internet great,” said Kovacevich.

Moving forward, the court will hear arguments in another case involving Section 230 Wednesday -- that one focusing on Twitter.

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