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Section 230

Despite A Significant Role in Shaping the Online World, the Future of Section 230 is Still Unknown

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of panelists at CATO Institute by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2020 – CATO Institute Vice President John Samples on Tuesday compared the continually changing territory that Section 230 occupies in the broadband world to the coronavirus.

While the past of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is constantly examined, the future of the law unknown in the midst of fierce bipartisan debate on Capitol Hill.

Instead of imposing national law on a global audience, it would be useful for platforms to consider an emerging international standard for online speech, said University of Oklahoma College of Law Professor Evelyn Aswad.

International free speech protection from the international human rights law is a “three-part test:” legality, legitimacy, and necessity, said Aswad.

Aswad proposed that large, global platforms examine content through an international lens, rather than require that other countries conform to American principles.

CATO Institute Senior Fellow Flemming Rose pushed against Aswad’s statement, saying he is “skeptical” of the international human rights law because it was “flawed from its inception.”

Rose said the international standard for hate speech is not on the same playing field as the First Amendment understanding. He called the international law “fragile,” and the First Amendment “robust.”

However, Rose admitted that “international human rights law is better than what Facebook is doing at the moment.”

“If it is lost, what is left? It won’t be the First Amendment,” replied Aswad. She predicted that the loss of the human rights standard would result in something “much more restrictive on speech.”

Aswad said the framework is fragile because other countries try to “erode it,” and countries should be put through the “principled framework” to “minimize human rights harms.”

Rose was not alone in his criticism of Facebook.

Jessica Ashooh, the director of policy at Reddit, said Facebook’s initiative in hiring more content moderators is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the abundance of users.

Reddit is a relatively small company with only about 600 employees, but relies on subreddit moderators, or volunteer moderators in a Reddit discussion online.

“The only thing that scales with users, is other users,” said Ashooh. Reddit has its company rules, and then the moderator sets the rules that apply to their online community discourse, said Ashooh.

Section 230 facilitates this system of content moderation and protects Reddit and moderators alike, said Ashooh.

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