The California Supreme Court has rendered its decision Hassell v. Bird (Case No. S235968) on July 2, 2018, a case regarding whether an Internet intermediary can incur liability as a publisher or speaker of third party content and be forced to remove content without consideration of First Amendment rights. The Court in Hassell held that Yelp, as an Internet intermediary, could not be forced to remove content posted by a third party, in this case a customer’s review of a law firm, citing the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (47 U.S.C. § 230):
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (§ 230(c)(1)),
“No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section” (§ 230(e)(3)).
The California Supreme Court also found that the California Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s issuance of an order to Yelp to remove the review, because in issuing that order Yelp is improperly treated as the publisher or speaker of information provided by another content provider. If the trial court order were to stand, it would promulgate similar orders that would force online publishers to remove third-party online content without a prior accounting of publishers’ First Amendment interests and the value to the public of that removed information.