Donald Trump as seen from behind at a rally on Oct. 22
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Trump wants to sway SCOTUS on Section 230. Soon everyone else will, too.

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today I’m bracing myself to find the really brilliant arguments in the pile of garbage that the Supreme Court’s Section 230 case(s) will create. Plus, “swatting” hoaxes aimed at schools have a surprising origin, Starlink gets to Iran, and the U.K. has a new PM.

You’ve got a friend in amici

Former President Donald Trump has made himself heard. So have 16 Republican-led states. Outside briefs are trickling into the Supreme Court as the justices consider taking up a case that could give them an opportunity to remake both the First Amendment and Section 230 by allowing states to stop social media content moderation. So far, the amicus filings are supporting such a ruling, but many more perspectives will almost certainly pour in soon — because they really could affect the outcome.

Multiple amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs recently landed as Florida tries to get the justices to let it force companies like Meta and Twitter to carry all content.

  • The amicus filers, who also include election-denying Trump lawyer John Eastman, are urging the court to take up the case and rule for Florida, which mostly lost in an appeals court.
  • A different appeals court, though, has upheld a similar law in Texas, making it more likely SCOTUS will take up the issue to resolve the split.
  • If the Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, it’ll be the second one touching on Section 230: Earlier this month, the justices agreed to review a case that — potentially — asks whether social media algorithms deserve the provision’s protection.

A lot more of these amicus briefs are on the way.

  • A response to Florida’s petition from NetChoice, the tech trade group that sued to block the law, is due soon, according to spokeswoman Krista Chavez.
  • Once that response is in, the group’s backers will have 30 days to make their own filings touting the legal status quo that has underpinned the internet for a quarter century — and supporting an even longer-standing view of free speech.
  • Meanwhile, in the Section 230 case the court has taken up, Google, which is one of the parties, recently filed its consent for the briefs to roll in in that case.

Amicus briefs are on an absolute tear in recent years, as everyone tries to have their say in the nation’s highest court.

  • Supreme Court specialist lawyers wrote in the National Law Journal in 2020 that the recent term had seen “more than 900 amicus briefs filed in argued cases.”
  • That was the highest average number of briefs ever filed per case, the lawyers reported, with the result that “the justices cited amicus briefs in 65 percent of argued cases with amicus participation and signed majority opinions.”

In other words, if you care about Section 230 in any way, your foes are probably filing soon — and the justices just might be interested in your two cents.

That being said, most amicus briefs are trash, and justices seem not to read all of each one.

  • The small coterie of SCOTUS advocates seems to agree the most useless filings are the ones that just repeat the arguments of the party they’re supporting.
  • There’s hope for filers, though: The justices seem to like state or federal government arguments, rigorous independent scholarship, views from industry, and pointers about unusual implications of the issues.
  • The justices also seem to prefer to engage with arguments from those same Supreme Court specialists — a clique that even its defenders have called “clubby” and “elite.”

Much of that may be good news for tech: Section 230 certainly has its share of weird implications for a whole bunch of unexpected industries, and the Biden Justice Department has previously defended the constitutionality of Section 230 even if Republican states want a new status quo. Big Tech has also practically bought up multiple Big Law firms. Still, anyone who wants to have a say should be having their high-priced lawyers writing now, and they should know the justices could always cite them just to disagree.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

In Washington

Chinese intelligence officers tried to bribe a U.S. law enforcement official to undermine a prosecution of a Chinese telecom giant, the Justice Department and FBI said Monday. The indictment, which several media outlets report is related to Huawei, is one of three cases relating to Chinese activity unsealed Monday. In another, FBI Director Christopher Wray said individuals from China created a “fake think tank” to help “cheat” their way into dominance in certain tech sectors.

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In the states

Ad tech firms are using troves of data to score voters on a range of issues,according to The New York Times. The scoring — on topics such as “racial resentment” and “trans athletes should not participate” — is being used in midterm elections to target campaign messaging to voters.

In the courts

Renters are suing a Texas-based rental pricing software company over allegations of price fixing. The proposed class-action lawsuit came just a few days after ProPublica published an exposé documenting RealPage’s pricing practices.

Coming soon

Join Protocol Enterprise for “AI and chips: What the future holds for the U.S. and China” on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 10:30 a.m. PDT/1:30 p.m. EDT. Protocol senior reporter Kate Kaye will moderate two panels on cross-border AI tech and the AI “Values Competition.”

Around the world

President Xi Jinping is consolidating power in China, as the Politburo Standing Committee is now filled with loyalists. Stocks of major Chinese tech companies including Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent sank more than 15% Monday morning.

Iranian activists have confirmed the arrival of smuggled Starlink receivers. Those receivers will in theory allow some Iranians to bypass internet shutdowns imposed by the government.

China’s top memory chip maker asked all employees with U.S. citizenship to leave the firm. The company, Yangtze Memory Technologies Co., has been reeling from the impacts of U.S. export controls that require U.S. citizens to gain approval from the Department of Commerce before providing services to chip fabrication facilities.

The U.K. has a new prime minister. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will become the third person to occupy the office in 2022, following Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

The Wire retracted its stories about BJP members having backdoor access to Meta platforms. The Indian digital news outlet conceded to having discrepancies in its reporting and is in the process of subjecting itself to an outside investigation.

In the media, culture, and metaverse

Calls in a massive wave of U.S. school “swatting” hoaxes may be originating in Ethiopia,Wired reports. At least six phone numbers identified as placing the calls have been connected to TextNow, a service that allows users to place calls using U.S. phone numbers. The company has suspended all service in Ethiopia for the time being, although the callers may be masking their locations and working from somewhere else.

In data

16.4%: That’s how much domestic chip output in China fell in the first nine months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, according to recently released data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Chip imports likewise contracted by 12.4% in that period compared to a year prior.

American education in crisis

The state of public education in the U.S. will become a tech problem sooner or later: Recent data from the Education Department showed dramatic postpandemic learning losses, with only 26% of eighth graders proficient in math and 31% proficient in reading. No U.S. state reported a gain in math. In 2019, the last year the test was administered prior to the pandemic, 34% of eighth graders were proficient in math.

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Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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