Connect with us

Section 230

The Authors of Section 230 Discuss the Law, 25 Years Later

Published

on

Screenshot of former Congressman Chris Cox from the webcast

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.

Contributing Reporter Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide and has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband.

Section 230

Section 230 Shuts Down Conversation on First Amendment, Panel Hears

The law prevents discussion on how the first amendment should be applied in a new age of technology, says expert.

Published

on

Photo of Ron Yokubaitis of Texas.net, Ashley Johnson of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Emma Llanso of Center for Democracy and Technology, Matthew Bergman of Social Media Victims Law Center, and Chris Marchese of Netchoice (left to right)

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2023 – Section 230 as it is written shuts down the conversation about the first amendment, claimed experts in a debate at Broadband Breakfast’s Big Tech & Speech Summit Thursday.  

Matthew Bergman, founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center, suggested that section 230 avoids discussion on the appropriate weighing of costs and benefits that exist in allowing big tech companies litigation immunity in moderation decisions on their platforms. 

We need to talk about what level of the first amendment is necessary in a new world of technology, said Bergman. This discussion happens primarily in an open litigation process, he said, which is not now available for those that are caused harm by these products. 

Photo of Ron Yokubaitis of Texas.net, Ashley Johnson of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Emma Llanso of Center for Democracy and Technology, Matthew Bergman of Social Media Victims Law Center, and Chris Marchese of Netchoice (left to right)

All companies must have reasonable care, Bergman argued. Opening litigation doesn’t mean that all claims are necessarily viable, only that the process should work itself out in the courts of law, he said. 

Eliminating section 230 could lead to online services being “over correct” in moderating speech which could lead to suffocating social reform movements organized on those platforms, argued Ashley Johnson of research institution, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. 

Furthermore, the burden of litigation would fall disproportionally on the companies that have fewer resources to defend themselves, she continued. 

Bergman responded, “if a social media platform is facing a lot of lawsuits because there are a lot of kids who have been hurt through the negligent design of that platform, why is that a bad thing?” People who are injured have the right by law to seek redress against the entity that caused that injury, Bergman said. 

Emma Llanso of the Center for Democracy and Technology suggested that platforms would change the way they fundamentally operate to avoid threat of litigation if section 230 were reformed or abolished, which could threaten freedom of speech for its users. 

It is necessary for the protection of the first amendment that the internet consists of many platforms with different content moderation policies to ensure that all people have a voice, she said. 

To this, Bergman argued that there is a distinction between algorithms that suggest content that users do not want to see – even that content that exists unbeknownst to the seeker of that information – and ensuring speech is not censored.  

It is a question concerning the faulty design of a product and protecting speech, and courts are where this balancing act should take place, said Bergman. 

This comes days after law professionals urged Congress to amend the statue to specify that it applies only to free speech, rather than the negligible design of product features that promote harmful speech. The discussion followed a Supreme Court decision to provide immunity to Google for recommending terrorist videos on its video platform YouTube.   

To watch the full videos join the Broadband Breakfast Club below. We are currently offering a Free 30-Day Trial: No credit card required!

Continue Reading

Section 230

Congress Should Amend Section 230, Senate Subcommittee Hears

Experts urged Congress to amend tech protection law to limit protection for the promotion of harmful information.

Published

on

Photo of Hany Farid, professor at University of California, Berkley

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2023 – Law professionals at a Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law hearing on Wednesday urged Congress to amend Section 230 to specify that it applies only to free speech, rather than the promotion of misinformation.

Section 230 protects platforms from being treated as a publisher or speaker of information originating from a third party, thus shielding it from liability for the posts of the latter. Mary Anne Franks, professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law, argued that there is a difference between protecting free speech and protecting information and the harmful dissemination of that information.

Hany Farid, professor at University of California, Berkley, argued that there should be a distinction between a negligently designed product feature and a core component to the platform’s business. For example, YouTube’s video recommendations is a product feature rather than an essential function as it is designed solely to maximize advertising revenue by keeping users on the platform, he said.

YouTube claims that the algorithm to recommend videos is unable to distinguish between two different videos. This, argued Farid, should be considered a negligently designed feature as YouTube knew or should have reasonably known that the feature could lead to harm.

Section 230, said Farid, was written to immunize tech companies from defamation litigation, not to immunize tech companies from any wrongdoing, including negligible design of its features.

“At a minimum,” said Franks, returning the statue to its original intention “would require amending the statute to make clear that the law’s protections only apply to speech and to make clear that platforms that knowingly promote harmful content are ineligible for immunity.”

In an State of the Net conference earlier this month, Frank emphasized the “good Samaritan” aspect of the law, claiming that it is supposed to “provide incentives at platforms to actually do the right thing.” Instead, the law does not incentivize platforms to moderate its content, she argued.

Jennifer Bennett of national litigation boutique Gupta Wessler suggested that Congress uphold what is known as the Henderson framework, which would hold a company liable if it materially contributes to what makes content unlawful, including the recommendation and dissemination of the content.

Unfortunately, lamented Eric Schnapper, professor of law at University of Washington School of Law, Section 230 has barred the right of Americans to get redress if they’ve been harmed by big tech. “Absolute immunity breeds absolute irresponsibility,” he said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, R-Connecticut, warned tech companies that “reform is coming” at the onset of the hearing.

This comes weeks after the Supreme Court decision to provide immunity to Google for recommending terrorist videos on its video platform YouTube. The case saw industry dissention on whether section 230 protects algorithmic recommendations. Justice Brett Kavanaugh claimed that YouTube forfeited its protection by using recommendation algorithms but was overturned in the court ruling.

Continue Reading

Premium

Content Moderation, Section 230 and the Future of Online Speech

Our comprehensive report examines the extremely timely issue of content moderation and Section 230 from multiple angles.

Published

on

In the 27 years since the so-called “26 words that created the internet” became law, rapid technological developments and sharp partisan divides have fueled increasingly complex content moderation dilemmas.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court tackled Section 230 for the first time through a pair of cases regarding platform liability for hosting and promoting terrorist content. In addition to the court’s ongoing deliberations, Section 230—which protects online intermediaries from liability for third-party content—has recently come under attack from Congress, the White House and multiple state legislatures.

Members of the Breakfast Club also have access to high-resolution videos from the Big Tech & Speech Summit!

Member download, or join with Free 30-Day Trial!

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast News



Broadband Breakfast Research Partner

Trending