My Remarks for Reddit’s Supreme Court Section 230 Amicus Brief

Posted June 16, 2023

In follow up to the current Reddit controversy these were the remarks I provided Reddit in their argument for preserving Section 230 protections in the Gonzalez v Google US Supreme Court case.

January 20, 2023

Original remarks on Reddit.

I first want to acknowledge that what happened on November 13th, 2014 was a heinous crime and tragedy that never should have occurred. I think what is decided in the court and its impact on Section 230 is manifestly a result of terrorism’s ultimate goal to disrupt society and lessen freedom — freedom of speech being one of terror’s paramount targets. While I do believe that Google and other internet companies must evolve to more actively deal with these threats, the potential impact to the wider shared society now platformed by these companies could ultimately reflect a success of such acts of terror in dividing us, and reducing our capacity to regulate both automated, and manually administered technologies.

On consideration of volunteer forums like Reddit

Unlike Google and Facebook, Reddit is and always has been a platform founded on a principle of self governance by the users who choose to host their communities there. It has algorithmic functions, but unlike the defendant, those algorithmic functions are actively programmed by volunteers like myself, and other volunteer members, in order to tailor our regulation structures to the needs of our communities.

Reddit provides an administrative framework to oversee moderators like myself, but I want to be careful in making the distinction that it is not a democratic platform; it is a platform that functions on the principles of initiative, engagement and regulation. All of these principles are a matter of self-motivated accountability.

In other words, volunteer moderator teams, to a greater or lesser degree depending on individual choices, use freely accessible and available program languages to code automated responses that help us manage our communities. My subreddit has somewhere in the realm of 1.5 million subscribers, and my active moderator team is less than ten individuals. Having automoderator allows us to do things like pick out commonly asked questions, or immediately spot hateful or threatening speech that goes against our community mandate.

We are the first line of defence in safeguarding both free speech, and the right not be subjected to hate speech or discrimination. We users of Reddit are not a homogenized monolith, but rather an incredibly diverse array of communities that are administrated by a large international pool of moderators. My subreddit itself has moderators located in the US, Canada, and the UK. Many other subreddits have more diverse teams of different origins, all of which help us to understand the varying needs of our communities, and provide support availability across different time zones.

Section 230, the potential for bad-faith litigation, and how it affects human operators

We are a volunteer team, and we both design our governance framework and uphold a mandate provided by consultation with the community. I’m speaking for my individual situation, which is neither unique, nor is it universal. My subreddit is a creative writing community that is targeted, wherever else it gathers or is exposed to advertising by non-human algorithms, to predatory interests that prey on ambition, and the desire for work to be seen by our industry.

This includes but is not limited to — private consulting, paid access to professional representation, content feedback services, and increasingly, low-return, high volume contest platforms. On occasion, these services come blended together. Very often, they are vastly more profitable than what our users might expect for their product, and are structured in such a way that any individual may pay to platform their contest, hire a pool of readers, and determine prizes and entry fees. Some of these companies are multi-billion dollar conglomerates that enjoy near-immunity from backlash, and some of them are just smaller interests that use such companies as a cover for their valueless offerings. My community, the largest online community of its kind, has a mandate that no such business will ever be allowed to advertise to our users.

A few years ago, one of the users in my community sounded a warning about just such an outfit, asserting that a 14+ contest string did not have any kind of genuine industry backing or material benefit to those paying the fees to enter. This contest string included plenty of official looking names that variously claimed to be contests or festivals from different parts of the world — Seattle WA, Sydney, Australia, Toronto, Canada — in an attempt to disguise their single origin, and their illegitimacy.

Considering this poster’s remarks to be in good faith and a benefit to the community, we allowed them to remain anonymous and ensured their remarks were not falsely reported and taken down. We had some back and forth with the contest owner, who promptly demanded things of the moderator team such as unmasking the individual, personal phone calls with us, and various other unacceptable, abusive behaviours.

After a considerable stretch of harassment, I advised this individual that if they wanted to continue threatening us with litigation, they were entitled to file a lawsuit against Reddit to attempt to force them to make us take down the critical remarks, and/or unmask our identities so that person could further litigate against us. These were my words, outlining the legal procedure by which this person could achieve satisfaction if he felt the legal grounds were strong enough. I did not anticipate he would attempt to actually do so, as Reddit’s commitment to free speech (and especially speech of this nature, which is cherished by the American Constitution) is considerably stronger than any claim this person had on our community.

He did, however, find an attorney willing to file a defamation SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation) against Reddit, and erroneously referred to me as an ”employee” of Reddit in order to facilitate my inclusion in the suit, and target me for reasons of personal contempt. I am not and never have been an employee of Reddit, as I think is pretty clear in this statement. Reddit, considering that I had in no way defamed this person, generously provided me with legal counsel.

In the course of this, the plaintiff not only harassed me personally, but also provided a frivolous motion to attempt to unmask approximately forty users in the community in an attempt to subject them to further harassment for having seen or commented on the original post. Reddit accommodated our community with active diligence, filing legal briefs to defend those users against unmasking, and to push back against many of the plaintiff’s empty threats, and his lawyer’s failure to supply the most basic legal action to back his claims.

The suit, unsurprisingly, was ultimately dropped — but that doesn’t reflect any kind of guarantee. The state of California, where Reddit is based, has very strong anti-SLAPP legislation in place, and because this person framed his place of business as being located there, it’s unlikely he would have made much progress. He still harasses me personally by putting my email on websites and impersonating me as soliciting sexual services, funeral services, other little contextualized hints of his malice, but he is not in a very strong position to weaponize further litigation against me.

Now, in my opinion, these acts are only restrained from escalation due to his lack of opportunity. In spite of a paucity of organization and tendency to self-sabotage, his level of hate is so vitriolic that he demonstrates a personality that does not so much resemble plaintiff Gonzales…but ISIS.

So in addition to compartmentalizing the chain of responsibility in order to protect human volunteers such as myself, we have to ask how far the distance really is between a hateful individual with enough money to hire an attorney (all while intimating wishes to do harm to the defendant with no care to their own legal case’s integrity) to bring a SLAPP — and an individual who will visit actual physical harm on another in order to silence them in contempt of their freedoms.

It isn’t a one-to-one comparison and I am not suggesting someone who harasses me online is equivalent to ISIS, but there is another consideration: if Section 230 is weakened because of a failure by Google to address its own weaknesses (something I think we can agree it has the resources and expertise to do) what ultimately happens to the human moderator who is considered responsible for the content that appears on their platform, and is expected to counteract it, and is expected to protect their community from it?

We are already, by tacit agreement, placed in that chain. We’re not algorithms, we are the agents of programming those algorithms to aid our service to our communities. Reddit isn’t perfect, it has struggled with balancing free speech and hate speech in the past. No company or individual can monitor all corners of the internet at all time, but the same goes for a school yard, or a mall, or any other place where human communities assemble.

Further, Reddit has tightened its regulations precisely because it does not want to inadvertently host those potential threats. Without a moderationship and administration free to act without fear of being litigated against or even charged with abetting these threats, organizations like ISIS, or the Proud Boys, or various international bad actors, would in fact find comfort in the weakening of Section 230.

Such interests often attempt to use human-run forums to propagate their message and recruitment. Twitter recently saw the departure of its entire paid moderator team, and the increase of hate speech, racism, abuse, misinformation and other threats to our freedoms has skyrocketed. A weakening of Section 230 would codify such an invitation to chaos, endangering the individuals whose role it is to ensure speech while using their best judgement to mitigate threats by exposing them to prosecutions.

Indicating my actions as a single individual performing this role in my spare time are the same as Google’s automated challenges suggest that any individual who litigates for any reason against platforms like Reddit should enjoy the same protections as a victim of terrorism.

This is not consistent with what I consider a standard of freedom or free speech.


It’s realistic to say that large, heavily resourced, well-financed corporations like Google should be required to implement better protections where their automated regulation of content is concerned. It’s fair, I think, to say that Section 230 may need to be reconsidered in light of this, and that its text should be updated to make these distinctions, as well as expanding protection to paid or volunteer moderator teams whose primary purpose is to ensure the protection of their communities.

That includes terror threats — and the importance of human intervention. Whether the YouTube’s content regulation instruments can recognize the difference between an ISIS recruitment video or a television clip is a question of technological limitations. If, however, 230 is weakened in order to punish those technological limitations, as written it will ultimately punish the individuals like myself whose far more sophisticated perception is vital to determining the difference between speech, and potential harm.

I am not capable of predicting what any bad actor might choose to propagate within my community before it comes to my inbox. Reddit, by extension (relying on thousands of human volunteers) cannot predict this either. It’s possible Google has a greater share of responsibility to do so, but if Section 230 suffers as a result of this lawsuit, it would preemptively chill human participation in moderating harmful content, and as a result, that harmful content very potentially would enjoy more and not less distribution.

If the object of this case is to prevent recruitment and indoctrination by terrorists, weakening my immunity as a volunteer moderator means not only that the person who attempted to sue me for defamation would likely have far greater success in falsely crediting responsibility to me for his indignity, but that I would not choose to make myself available to police any controversial content in service to my community, whether that be cottage industry grift, or terrorist recruitment, or simple bickering.

I am not an algorithm. I am not a Reddit employee, or a Reddit department. In the course of being sued, I have taken the personal, voluntary initiative to prevent the names and addresses of community members from becoming public and making those members vulnerable. I was a liaison between Reddit and those community members. I don’t receive compensation for this, and I was happy to do it — but I don’t think I would feel that way if I was blamed for anything posted in my community. That simply does not make sense. And if there is further examination of Section 230, it should consider my level of responsibility does not match Google’s.

Finally, the victims and the targets of terror need moderators who can act without fear of being accused of participating in terror for simply being in a chain of administrators. Section 230 must remain in place to ensure that threat management is protected and improved, or else it credits responsibility to every paid or unpaid participant responsible for regulating potentially harmful content.