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Should Some Sites Be Liable For The Content They Host?

America’s lawmakers are scrutinizing the blanket protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which lets online companies moderate their own sites without incurring legal liability for everything they host.

schwit1 shared this article from the New York Times:

Last month, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said in a hearing about Google and censorship that the law was “a subsidy, a perk” for big tech that may need to be reconsidered. In an April interview, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called Section 230 a “gift” to tech companies “that could be removed.”

“There is definitely more attention being paid to Section 230 than at any time in its history,” said Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the United States Naval Academy and the author of a book about the law, The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet …. Mr. Wyden, now a senator [and a co-author of the original bill], said the law had been written to provide “a sword and a shield” for internet companies. The shield is the liability protection for user content, but the sword was meant to allow companies to keep out “offensive materials.” However, he said firms had not done enough to keep “slime” off their sites. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Wyden said he had recently told tech workers at a conference on content moderation that if “you don’t use the sword, there are going to be people coming for your shield.”

There is also a concern that the law’s immunity is too sweeping. Websites trading in revenge pornography, hate speech or personal information to harass people online receive the same immunity as sites like Wikipedia. “It gives immunity to people who do not earn it and are not worthy of it,” said Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at Boston University who has written extensively about the statute. The first blow came last year with the signing of a law that creates an exception in Section 230 for websites that knowingly assist, facilitate or support sex trafficking. Critics of the new law said it opened the door to create other exceptions and would ultimately render Section 230 meaningless.
The article notes that while lawmakers from both parties are challenging the protections, “they disagree on why,” with Republicans complaining that the law has only protected some free speech while still leaving conservative voices open to censorship on major platforms.

The Times also notes that when Wyden co-authored the original bill in 1996, Google didn’t exist yet, and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.


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