CES 2023: Changing Section 230 Would Jeopardize Startup

Without Section 230, platforms whose actions are legally justified could be subject to ruinous lawsuits.

CES 2023: Changing Section 230 Would Jeopardize Startup
Photo of Kate Tummarello, executive director of Engine

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2021 – Removing Section 230’s protections for online platforms would expose small startups to crippling legal costs, said Kate Tummarello, executive director of Engine, a non-profit that advocates for startups, speaking on a Friday panel at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which became law in 1996, shields online platforms from civil liability for content posted by third-parties. While proponents say the provision is critical to the existence of platforms, public figures and policymakers on both right and left have, of late, advocated its repeal.

Tummarello argued that Section 230 allows young, resource-poor companies to combat lawsuits more efficiently, noting that a the costs of a full litigation could put a startup out of business. “Defending against a lawsuit over user content, even with 230 in place, still costs tens of thousands of dollars,” Tummarello said. She stated that even platforms whose actions are legally justified benefit from Section 230 since they could be subjected to and ruined by a frivolous lawsuit.

Section 230 will likely soon be subjected to judicial interpretation at the Supreme Court in a pair of cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. Both cases question whether tech platforms are liable for hosting pro-terrorist third-party content.

Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge, voiced concern over platforms’ content-moderation decisions that, she said, enable online misinformation harassment. However, she argued that directly regulating content moderation is “fraught,” instead calling for “competition-based” reform that will provide alternative services for users.

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