June 25, 2020 — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and former Congressman Chris Cox, authors of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, joined technology policy journalist Ashley Gold to defend the importance of the law, 25 years after its original passage.
“We thought people should be focused on ideas,” said Wyden, when Gold asked in a Wednesday webinar what inspired the pair to write the law.
The team knew the digital revolution, which introduced new user-generated technology, was promising.
“The Internet couldn’t be treated like traditional media,” Cox said. “The users are the broadcasters and we knew there were going to be billions.”
“I couldn’t conceive of why anybody would invest in a small innovator, somebody who is taking a risk, who only has an idea, if they’re going to be held liable for the content of billions,” recalled Wyden.
“We knew if you wanted the internet to grow, you needed some protections,” said Cox.
The team knitted together Section 230 to protect an infant industry. Their decision occurred free from lobbying pressure.
“We attempted to arm websites with a sword and a shield,” Wyden said.
Section 230’s shield is the immunity granted to platforms, which allows for the unlimited proliferation of ideas to occur online. The law’s sword grants these platforms the ability to go after objectionable content.
“Prior to Section 230, a platform would have a powerful incentive not to moderate content, because moderation was punished with unlimited liability,” said Cox. “Without Section 230, my god, just imagine.”
When asked if the team thought about the future of the internet when crafting the law, Cox answered that they “knew that the need for such a law would only become greater and greater.”
“We never had the idea that this was an industry that needed infinite protection,” he continued. “We saw that there was a specific problem, baked into the design of the technology.”
Gold further questioned the panel, asking what changes they would make to amend the law if they could.
“I think any changes made to the law should not target constitutionally protected speech and not discourage moderation,” Wyden said. “As of yet, every single proposal being offered violates one or both of these principals.”
“I don’t think the law was ambiguously drafted, but I would find all the places I think the courts misinterpreted it and add an additional 3 paragraphs,” Cox said.
“Those who want to throw out Section 230, I want to hear what they’re going to do to protect constitutional speech and promote online moderation,” Wyden said.
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