Yesterday brought another Congressional hearing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Following the Senate Commerce hearing several weeks ago on SESTA, yesterday’s hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations focused on online sex trafficking more generally, rather than any specific legislation. Several witnesses, including former Rep. Chris Cox, a co-author of Section 230, provided expert views on the issue.
While the hearing was more broad, amendments to Section 230 were discussed, including adding a knowledge standard. I.e., why shouldn’t online platforms incur sex trafficking liability as soon as they have knowledge of misuse of their services?
This is a logical question, since the much-reviled Backpage.com allegedly knew that criminal activities occurred on its site, while removing objectionable words from ads which had the effect of obscuring illegality. Thus, to impose liability upon knowledge would appear to respond to this problem.
However, this overlooks that online platforms already monitor and moderate content for a host of problems extending far beyond sex trafficking, whether to prevent hate speech, child endangerment, or illegal transactions (like narcotics and firearms), among numerous other subjects. In policing against abuse, reviewers constantly make judgment calls about short, ambiguous pieces of content which may be divorced from any context. MORE »