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Section 230

Content Moderation Experts Discuss Future of Section 230 in Broadband Breakfast Live Online Event



July 6, 2020 — The role of a content moderator is to be both a judge and a janitor of the internet, according to Alex Feerst, general counsel at Neuralink.

In a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday, a panel of content moderation experts joined moderator Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, to discuss the future of content moderation in the wake of heightened controversy suurounding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The event was the first in a three part series on the power, impact and scope of Section 230.

Speaking at the beginning of the panel, Broadband Breakfast Assistant Editor Emily McPhie said Section 230 is what empowers websites to make content moderation decisions. McPhie said that Section 230 reforms would likely make it harder for platforms to moderate selective content.

The job of a content moderator has been altered and expanded through the years, Clark said.

Today, essentially all platforms moderate more content than anyone would ever imagine, Feerst said. Section 230 provides a baseline on top of which platforms can build rule sets, he added, which attempt to actively foster desired communities.

Content moderation is a difficult task, as it is nearly impossible to satisfy everyone at once.

Feerst argued intersubjectivity becomes an issue, as platforms attempt to mediate between all different types of opinions on what should be accepted and what should not.

“Because the content moderation process is so difficult and because approaches vary, it is necessary platforms provide transparency,” said Spandi Singh, a policy analyst at New America’s Open Technology Institute. The institute fights for greater transparency and accountability in content moderation practices.

Screenshot of panelists from the Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

Further, the panel of moderation experts found a disconnect between their day-to-day efforts and the general public’s understanding of the work they do.

“I would talk to people and felt very misunderstood, because people thought, ‘How hard can it be?’” Feerst said.

To combat this, Clara Tsao, interim co-executive director of the Trust and Safety Professional Association, said that she worked to create a community to provide support for content moderation professionals, while also working to train individuals and centralize resources.

According to Tsao, four basic types of content moderation jobs exist: at-scale user generated content moderators and contractors, monetized content moderators, legal operations processors, and content policy developers.

Full-time content reviewers and contractors are subject to the poorest working conditions of the bunch, she said.

Although the work is taxing, Feerst emphasized the importance of humans doing this labor, rather than relying on a fully automated process.

Currently, artificial intelligence is used by moderators to draw in pools of questionable content for human review and final decision-making.

“Areas where there is automated decision making are few,” Feerst said. “I think that’s good — humans are far better at this than AI.”

“Not a lot of data around human versus AI content moderation exists,” Singh said. The evidence that does exist shows that automated tools are not as accurate in moderating content as humans, she added.

“It would be nice to do this at scale, but there really is not a way to do so,” Feerst said.

“The space is only going to get more complicated,” Tsao said, arguing that users should have a voice and be able to advocate for their own beliefs in the matter.

If platforms continue to hold so much speech, they must be willing to accept the costs of content moderation, Feerst said.

“It’s going to be expensive if you want to treat employees well,” he said.

Broadband Breakfast’s series on Section 230 will continue next Wednesday with a discussion of the statute in the context of an election year.

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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.



Photo of Ron Yokubaitis of, 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, 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.   

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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.



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.

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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.



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.

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