All about Section 230, a rule that made the modern internet

What is Section 230

Under this law, passed by the United States in 1996, internet companies are generally exempted from liability for the material users post on their networks. The twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.

How it protects the internet companies

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. 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."

Why is it in news

US President Donald Trump has signed in an executive order that would strip those protections if online platforms engaged in "editorial decisions". The move came after Twitter added a fact-check warning to one of Trump's tweets.

What is entails

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.

What happens if Sec 230 is limited or goes away?

There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious. Another possibility is that Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.


29 May 2020

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