SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SENATE SHOWDOWN

Section 230 is a piece of Internet legislation in the United States, passed into law as part of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 (a common name for Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996), formally codified as Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 at 47 U.S.C.§ 230.[a] Section 230 generally provides immunity for website publishers from third-party content.

A Senate panel voted to subpoena the heads of Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google for an Oct. 28 session focusing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision that protects the companies from lawsuits over user-generated content. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have agreed to attend voluntarily, their companies said.

If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.

That’s thanks to Section 230, which states that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’

That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.

Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’

Where did Section 230 come from?

The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.

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