February 20, 2023 -- In a major case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the nine justices will adjudicate the scope of Section 230, a part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that frees platforms from legal responsibility for content posted online by their users. A ruling that could expose internet companies to litigation from every direction.
The justices will hear arguments in an appeal by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old woman from California shot dead during a 2015 rampage by Islamist militants in Paris, of a lower court's ruling dismissing a lawsuit against YouTube's owner Google LLC seeking monetary damages, citing Section 230. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet.
The family claimed that YouTube, through its computer algorithms, unlawfully recommended videos by the Islamic State militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, to certain users. A ruling against the company could create a "litigation minefield," Google told the justices in a brief. Such a decision could alter how the internet works, making it less useful, undermining free speech and hurting the economy, according to the company and its supporters. It could threaten services as varied as search engines, job listings, product reviews and displays of relevant news, songs, or entertainment, they added.
Section 230 guards "interactive computer services" by making sure they cannot be treated as the "publisher or speaker" of information provided by users. Legal experts note that companies could employ other legal defenses if Section 230 protections are curbed.
Calls have come from across the ideological and political spectrum - including Democratic President Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump - for a rethink of Section 230 to ensure that companies can be held accountable. Biden's administration urged the justices to revive the Gonzalez family's lawsuit.
Gonzalez, who had been studying in Paris, died when militants fired on a crowd at a bistro during the rampage that killed 130 people.
The 2016 lawsuit by her mother Beatriz Gonzalez, stepfather Jose Hernandez and other relatives accused YouTube of providing "material support" to Islamic State in part by recommending the group's videos to certain users based on algorithmic predictions about their interests. The recommendations helped spread Islamic State's message and recruit jihadist fighters, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was brought under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets Americans recover damages related to "an act of international terrorism." The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed it in 2021. The justices will hear the family's appeal of a lower court's decision largely based on immunity granted to social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
They will hear a related case involving Twitter Inc. on Wednesday. American relatives of a Jordanian man named Nawras Alassaf slain in 2017 in an Istanbul nightclub shooting that killed 39 people - with Islamic State again claiming responsibility - accused Twitter in a lawsuit of aiding and abetting the group by failing to police the platform for its accounts or posts. Twitter is appealing after a lower court allowed that lawsuit to proceed and found that the company refused to take "meaningful steps" to prevent Islamic State's use of the platform.
Google has attracted support from various technology businesses, scholars, legislators, libertarians and rights groups worried that exposing platforms to liability would force them to remove content at even the hint of controversy, harming free speech. The company defended its practices. Without algorithmic sorting, it said, "YouTube would play every video ever posted in one infinite sequence - the world's worst TV channel."
"This court should not undercut a central building block of the modern internet," Google told the justices in a filing. "Eroding Section 230's protection would create perverse incentives that could both increase removals of legal but controversial speech on some websites and lead other websites to close their eyes to harmful or even illegal content," it added.
It’s important to understand how the online presence works and how it can be used to increase your firm's sales. By using your firm's online profile as a marketing tool, you are also exploiting digital marketing techniques that your firm can use to reach a wider audience, build trust with potential clients, and ultimately grow your business.
Reach a Broader Audience with Online Marketing
One of the greatest benefits of using online profiles and marketing is that it affords you a wider audience reach than traditional marketing techniques. With online marketing, you can target specific demographics, interests, and even locations. Meaning that you can customize your marketing efforts to connect with those who are most likely to need your services. With a curated profile, you craft public perception of your firm, which essentially influences the firm's ability to "close the deal" with new clients.
Moreover, online marketing is less expensive than some traditional marketing methods. This is especially beneficial for small law firms who have a limited budget. By investing in online marketing as well as outdoor advertising, you can reach a larger number of potential clients.
Finally, online marketing is more efficient than some traditional methods because people are spending more time online than ever before. According to a recent study, adults in the United Kingdom now spend an average of 11 hours per day interacting with digital media and the United States spends at least 10.5 hours a day with 3.6 hours a day on social media. This provides a huge opportunity for law firms to reach their target market and convert them into clients.
Use Online Marketing to Build Trust with Potential Clients
It’s important to understand how digital marketing works and how it can be used to increase sales for law firms. By gaining digital marketing techniques, your firm can reach a wider audience, build trust with potential clients, and ultimately grow your business.
For people to retain your firm, they need to trust you and your firm first. Unfortunately, trust is something that takes time to build. However, there are ways that you can speed up the process by using online marketing techniques.
One way to build trust is by ensuring that your website is up-to-date, user-friendly, and attractive as well as informative. In addition, your website should be easy to navigate so that potential clients can easily find what they’re looking for. Your website should contain information about your firm, its history, as well as information about any awards, up and coming associates featured in the media and pro bono work that you’d want to feature.
More is more when it comes to standing out. But it is also important to craft how you'll stand out. Over-reliance on producing content but neglecting telling your firm's story is a common mistake, and one that drains the ROI you might have gotten with more careful curation of your online image.
Finally, one of the best ways to use online resources to build trust is by being active in earned media outlets. This allows you to connect with potential clients on a level which helps create a relationship of trust between you and them. Providing expertise in legal issues in local publications raises your firm’s profile without the stigma of having your profile associated with content marketing, e.g., blogposts, advertisements, etc.
By streamlining your firm’s net presence, you can start building trust with potential clients long before they step into your office. A good online presence provides law firms with several advantages including the ability of people to form an opinion of your firm. You not only reach a wider audience, build trust with potential clients, and generate leads that convert into paying customers, but you better succeed in today’s competitive landscape.
PM Solutions Legal Marketing offers a service for each of our Law Firm clients to help you improve your firm’s online visibility and overall reputation. In addition to improving your website's ranking, PM Solutions can also provide other public relations and marketing services
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