by Dan Moren
Explaining the law that prevents Internet platforms from being sued
Fantastic explainer by Ars Technica’s Timothy B. Lee about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants immunity to online platforms for content posted on their services:
It’s hard to imagine sites like Yelp, Reddit, or Facebook existing in their current form without a law like Section 230. Yelp, for example, is regularly threatened by business owners for allegedly defamatory reviews. Section 230 allows Yelp to basically ignore these threats. Without Section 230, Yelp would need a large staff to conduct legal analysis of potentially defamatory reviews–a cost that could have prevented Yelp from getting off the ground 15 years ago.
Section 230 was, of course, in the news recently because of the president’s attempt to issue an executive order undoing it. But Democratic candidate Joe Biden has also called to revoke the immunity implication of Section 230, at least in the case of Facebook.
Perhaps most importantly, though many politicians say that Section 230 requires online platforms to be “politically neutral” that’s actually not the case at all:
And despite a number of politicians’ claims, Kosseff added, “there’s no mention I can find of a requirement for neutrality.” The authors of the statute “do talk about a need to promote political discourse,” he adds. “But I don’t see anything saying to receive 230 protections you must be neutral.”
Fundamentally, the law is not well understood and the implications of rolling it back are potentially damaging (even as there are definite needs to tweak and reform parts of it as well). Lee’s rundown should be required reading for anybody looking to understand Section 230, and especially for all those politicians who want to revise it.