As reported by Professor Eric Goldman and others, Congress is again considering problematic legislation to undermine what WIRED Magazine called “the most important law in tech”: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230).
What is Section 230?
Section 230 is a critical protection for online intermediaries, designed to ensure that when online misconduct occurs, courts and local law enforcement do not ‘shoot the messenger’ by blaming the intermediary instead of the bad actor. Section 230 was passed to avert the risk of unpredictable liability for online services, which federal courts have said would be “an obvious chilling effect” on speech.
Before Section 230, ISPs were exposed to legal risk if they policed their services for abuse and misconduct: courts had concluded that once you start looking for needles, you’re effectively the author of the entire haystack. Perversely, taking content down meant intermediaries assumed responsibility for the billions of posts that they did not take down. By enacting Section 230, Congress encouraged ISPs to be good actors, and to police content for bad actors without fear that they would face guilt by association in the event that bad actors manage to escape detection.
The websites, ISPs, hosts, advertising networks, and other services that depend on Section 230 have come to be a cornerstone of the Internet and the U.S. economy. One recent study estimated that sites providing “user-generated” content add $44 billion to the U.S. economy and 425,000 jobs. MORE »