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Section 230

Social Media Not About Publisher Versus Platform, Says Expert Author on Section 230

Elijah Labby



Screenshot of Jeff Kosseff, author of The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet, courtesy of C-Span

July 13, 2020 — Social media moderation will inevitably be biased to some degree, said Jeff Kosseff, assistant professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy and author of The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet.

“I mean, they’re anecdotal reports, and what the anecdotal reports say to me is these are really hard decisions,” Kosseff said in a Lincoln Network webinar Monday. “Again, moderation will be biased to some degree, and a lot of the moderation decisions are no brainers — things that are clearly illegal… but when it gets to things that are legal speech, constitutionally-protected… that’s where it gets hard.”

Kosseff said that while he is open to listening to such anecdotal reports of bias, he has not yet seen evidence of systemic prejudice against conservatives.

“I have not seen any aggregate statistical evidence of that — but that’s not to rule out that it doesn’t happen,” he said. “This is where a fact would be really, really useful in the debate.”

Arguments about Section 230 that include lines about publisher versus platform distinctions are incorrect, Kosseff explained.

“It’s not from the text of Section 230,” he said. “The publisher/platform distinction, that’s really something that has materialized in the recent debate about Section 230 in the past few years.”

Kosseff said that a more accurate distinction would be between publisher and distributor.

“A distributor is someone who distributes someone else’s content like a bookstore, and they become liable if they [distribute illegal materials],” he said. “But a publisher, something like a newpaper’s letter to the editor page isn’t strictly liable.”

Section 230 is crucial to internet freedom, Kosseff claimed.

“My personal opinion is that Section 230 is an incredibly important law,” he said. “And I’m actually surprised that it’s taken this long for there to be public attention to it.”


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