States Attorneys General Want Special Exception To Blame Sites For Actions Of Users

from the that-would-be-a-very-bad-idea dept

One of the most important laws that has enabled innovation on the internet to thrive is Section 230 of the CDA. We’ve written about it many times. What it says is fairly basic: a website cannot be held liable for actions by its users. There are a few exceptions and caveats, but that’s the basic premise. And it makes perfect common sense — so much so that it’s almost amazing that you need a law to say it. But, we do, because when grandstanding and moral panics come around, politicians and people with pitchforks love to blame third parties and intermediaries as if they’re the problem. And, having intermediaries be liable for how users are using their services creates all sorts of problems. It makes it that much more difficult for companies to innovate, because they’re taking on tremendous potential liability if anyone misuses their service. So, they then either don’t develop an open service, or they have to invest heavily in services to filter/monitor/block any potential misdeeds (which also will lead to blocking legitimate uses as well).

Of course, the grandstanding politicians who jump on moral panics absolutely hate Section 230. They always have. As we’ve discussed in detail over the years, the type of politician that focuses on grandstanding on moral panics the most is always a state attorney general. They make grand public pronouncements against companies they don’t like, often with absolutely no legal basis, and then browbeat them into a “settlement” just so the companies can stop having to deal with the AGs lying about them in public all the time. Chris Tolles, the CEO of Topix, gave a great detailed explanation of how various AGs ganged up on him, basically issuing a press release accusing him of doing horrible things, totally misrepresenting what the company did, but without naming a single law they violated (because they hadn’t). In response, Tolles did what most people would think you should do in that case: explain to the AGs what Topix actually did, and why it was perfectly reasonable. In response, the AGs (more of them this time) issued another press release, taking direct statements that Tolles had told them further out of context, and making the company sound even worse. Eventually he “settled” because fighting them was costly.

We’ve seen this over and over and over again. AGs have attacked Twitter and Craigslist and Facebook and Comcast and Google and over and over again.

Of course, the lack of a legal basis often stymies these attempts, and a big thing that gets in the way: Section 230. So it should come as little surprise, as noted by Eric Goldman today, that the states Attorneys General are planning to ask Congress for an exemption to Section 230 when (you guessed it) states AGs bring a case. He heard it today while on a panel at the annual meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, where he was on a panel about Section 230. During the discussion, Goldman says that an unnamed Attorney General (he didn’t catch which one) made a comment about the plan.

Section 230 has been under attack for some time, but going to Congress to try to make that kind of exception would be a huge disaster. It would allow these AGs to continue with bogus grandstanding campaigns, but actually with the ability to create massive problems for companies actually trying to offer usable, open platforms for users. Nearly every company would need to proactively filter any kind of user generated content, and would be at risk of tremendous legal liability if “bad stuff” got through. This would be a huge attack on internet innovation, all so some ambitious politicians can try to make more headlines by attacking tech companies. The state Attorney General position is considered the classic “stepping stone” position, which many politicians use to run for Governor or Senator in their state, and one way to help with the campaign is to get lots of headlines around “protecting the children” and whatnot. So, basically, these politicians would be breaking one of the key elements that has allowed internet innovation to thrive, to help them get a few more headlines in their quest for higher office.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “States Attorneys General Want Special Exception To Blame Sites For Actions Of Users”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
RD says:

Re: Re: Re:

Posting in EVERY article “milk it! milk it! coward! pirate! bawk!” is considered having a conversation now? Lets be clear: you arent interested in having any kind of meaningful discussion. At all. You prove it with every post. You dont get to then turn around and try to take Mike and the site to task for something you yourself are unwilling to do.

I am going to keep posting this every time you roll out your bullshit lies.

Also, you have proven you deserve to be censored. If Mike found a way to block you off the entire site, many here would not shed a tear OR feel that is was in any way wrong for him to do so, simply because you only come here to be a disruption and are an attention whore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Jesus, AJ has completely broken down this past week.

No, bud. ? If you want to talk about complete breakdowns?

This is nowhere near a complete breakdown. I doubt AJ’s got the s|<i1z to go HipCrime on us all, but push him hard enough and he might get close to ?Terri Tickle?.

Wikipedia: Usenet celebrity: ? Eccentric personalities

? David D’Amato ? former assistant high school principal, he actively spammed and trolled a variety of newsgroups (particularly “alt.gothic” and “”) from roughly 1996 to 1999, initiated e-mail bombings against those he considered “opponents,” and solicited for video recordings of young adult males being bound and tickled, all while using the pseudonym/alter ego Terri DiSisto, who was supposedly a female college student. D’Amato was found guilty of e-mail bombings which caused service outages at a number of colleges and universities, was fined $5,000 (USD), and spent a year in prison after being convicted in 2001.

There are some real strange people out there. Wait ’til AJ gets his own FAQ before you start talkin’ breakdown.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Lets play a game.

Knock! Knock!

ArmoredGuineaPIg: Who is there?
AJ: It’s me!
ArmoredGuineaPIg: Me who?
AJ: Me AJ.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: Oh hi AJ, how are you?
AJ: Fine.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: How is the wife?
AJ: AJ starts crying.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: She left you? why? what happened?
AJ: MM happened.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: Who is MM?
AJ: Mike Masnick.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: Did this MM run away with your wife?
AJ: No, she is to good for him, she would never socialize with the likes of him.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: Then what does he has to do with your wife living you?
AJ: She left me because I spend to much time trying to expose MM.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: What did he do?
AJ: Nothing he just won’t talk to me and I want answers from him, I want the world to know that he is a fraud and I am right.
ArmoredGuineaPIg: AJ, calm down, do you want some milk?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yes… Aiding and abetting… Both of which require the act to be done with knowledge and intent, neither of which can you actually prove in this case. That is rather the point, I’d think. Completely outside the problems of illegally seized evidence and jurisdiction issues.

The fact that you just out and out dismiss any counter arguments does not make you ‘right.’

Anonymous Coward says:

I want an exception too, I want an exception to sue every member of congress, I also would like to sue the president of the US, his staff and everyone involved in the NSA fiasco.

I also would like an exception to go after every company that aided and abetted those people.

This is why we can’t have nice things, all the rules are upside down.

out_of_the_blue says:

Mike and Tolles against AG investigating Google for antitrust.

From the Google link: “Texas’ AG was “investigating” Google for antitrust violations” — NOTHING CAME OF IT, evidently (or Mike would run it endlessly), but these two pro-Googlers are against the very investigation, and pooh-pooh any basis for it because Google’s targets were too small.

Tolles dropped something he calls the “priority review program”, which sounds like paid shilling. But he doesn’t admit anything could be wrong with it. And Mike as usual claims it didn’t gain much money. — That’s one of Mike’s standard defenses: unless you’re really raking it in (much more than millionaire Kim Dotcom, manifestly), then obviously all is perfectly legal.

Anyhoo, when more than one AG comes after you, it’s just possible that you’re engaged in fairly obvious fiddling. So I don’t at all believe Mike and his pal Tolles there.

Nor here. Mike has the view that statute is a shield, that it legalizes what’s against common law, where I see statute as ALWAYS suspect, an instrument made by criminals for criminals, and usually against the public good. Mike doesn’t do common law or morality: he’s railing here against “moral panics”, one of his standard phrases.

And Mike is always looking for ways that obvious criminality can be shielded or excused. Thus, his position that “safe harbor” protects file hosts with obvious infringed content on their site, and from which they gain money.

Rapnel (profile) says:


The nimrods worried about their money should be doing the advertising on the content that they claim is costing them so much money. Look at that, for a fraction of the costs of their supposed losses they’ve just recaptured their very own new market.

And that for a 3 second thought. Of course when you’re paid for rooting out piracy and securing eternity it takes a little longer to gain insight through retrospect, I guess. Must be.

JMT says:

Re: Mike and Tolles against AG investigating Google for antitrust.

“Anyhoo, when more than one AG comes after you, it’s just possible that you’re engaged in fairly obvious fiddling.”

Nice appeal to authority there. Obviously there’s no reason to believe that if one AG seeks to improve their chances of career advancement by grandstanding on a stupid issue like this, that others would jump on the bandwagon for the same ulterior motives. No, AG’s clearly have moral superiority when in numbers…

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And four-year-olds and adults and anyone who kills someone with a gun in a non-self defence situation.

Oh wait, that would be a scary proportion of your population.

Although now I think about it, ‘crazed loonies’ is a good description of your gun lobby. ‘Wayne “Crazed Loony” LaPierre’ has a nice ring to it. Or ‘Charlton “Prise my gun out of my crazed loony dead hands” Heston’.

out_of_the_blue says:


From the PDF:

Who Are We Keeping Safe With The Communications Decency Act’s Safe Harbor?

Reputation-harming websites like, Is Anybody Down, and others allow users to upload damaging images of and speech about consumers. This panel will discuss the need to change who is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and under what circumstances.

AND a WHOLE hour scheduled! WITH this Goldman a panelist to presumably oppose their evil agenda! Man, this is a scandal!

Now, that Mike gives it play means that he’s worried that anything resembling common decency will hamper him or his pals. He might be forced to step in when his fanboys act up. But all Mike has is some made-up vague hyperbole: “a huge attack on internet innovation”.

Surely we can all agree that comments at times go too far and that some are edging past decency. It’s just time to re-consider whether the sweeping provisions of Section 230 go too far the other way and allow harm. That’s all these AGs are doing, but Mike is strangely alarmed.

Anonymous Coward says:


Cathy, you would not know common decency if it walked up and slapped you with a fish.

Surely we can all agree that comments at times go too far and that some are edging past decency

I think that most will agree that your comments go way past decency. Your comments are always filled with lies, more lies and ad-hominems

You are the most immoral person who comments on this site.

You are only happy when your corporate pay masters are stealing rights away from the public.

You seem to believbe that anything that your masters do is moral and we are immoral for discussing the antics that they pull

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps it is time to remind the AG’s what their jobs actually are.
You can not tell me there is a long list of things they should be taking care of in their states, but instead pursue headlines well outside of the scope of their office.

I mean if the public is paying for you to do your job and your wasting dollars making up problems while ignoring real issues… aren’t you unfit for the job?

Oooh maybe we can get the DoJ to investigate the AG’s for violating the law instead of trying to strip away more rights from citizens for a fucking soundbite.

Anonymouse says:

Re: Re: Re:

They may have created their own laws but other countries can ignore them, as most do apart from the few like the damn UK whihc will extradite people on an accusation with no proof of a crime being committed and where a crime is not against the law in the UK.

I think it is seriously getting close to the need for a violent uprising by the people, lets do like France did and chop of their heads for their corrupt ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not one well known figure skating site. They have a section for political discussions, as well are normal figure skating fare. However, since, they, and their servers, operate out of Germany, they are not subject to any American laws. Since they, and their servers, are in Germany, they are only subject to the laws of Germany.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So all of the owners of porn sites should be sent to Iran to be stoned to death?

All magazine publishers that allow depictions of scantilly clad women should be sent to Indonesia for sentencing?

All of the Hollywood producers/screenwriters that disrespect the Thai Monarchy should be sent to Thailand for violation of Thailand’s lese majeste law?

Now can you see how stupid your comment was..

Was about to post this when my sarcasm meter started working again. I just had to bash my head against the desk enough times.

Anonymous Coward says:

And it makes perfect common sense — so much so that it’s almost amazing that you need a law to say it. But, we do, because when grandstanding and moral panics come around, politicians and people with pitchforks love to blame third parties and intermediaries as if they’re the problem.

If the above is such common sense then why does it not apply to the manufacturers and retailers of firearms?

Niall (profile) says:

Re: bout time

So Facebook goes around making people kill themselves, bashing people, bullying people or even directly killing people? No? Just a few psychotic users? Ah.

“Given all the suicides, bashings, bullying ,and yes, even murders directly attributed to telephones, I think its high time those gutless cowardly bastards were held accountable for their part.

death to AT&T/Verizon!”

Now makes as much sense – but there would be more people agreeing with you 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

So technically someone could go to the attorneys generals via TOR post illegal content and the attorney general would have to answer for it.

These morons need to think before they speak… If the site owners were held responsible for what the users did there would be mass trolling. Don’t like someone? Go to their site post some illegal content like movies, music, warez, or even worse.
It’s pretty much impossible to police the web.. These dinosaurs that are not in touch with the age of technology should have no right to “fix” what they don’t understand. They’re just gonna end up making shit worse for everybody including themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know, as long as we are going this route to blame a site for something the site owners can not possibly know the answers to as to what is or is not copyright; or is or is not fair use, why don’t we also make responsible these politicians with all these great ideas that they should have to police the internet full time as courtesy police to identify what is actually infringement.

Viln (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Congratulations… you’ve now reached the point of spamming and trolling where no one cares or even remembers what you’re complaining about. You could expose Mike in an egregious lie on one of your pastebin rants, and it would still go straight to /dev/null. You’ve completely invalidated yourself, and there’s literally nothing you can do to get back from that.

Unless you’re Mike’s alt meant to drum up activity, in which case… joke’s old man.

Dave says:

Re: Re:

I suppose someone has to say it. He’s not working hard to censor. He’s working hard to try and keep the most pathetic, bleating weepy creature I have ever heard on the net (OOTB, in case anyone is not clear about this) from throwing out even more totally misleading (understatement) information and “comments” (I use the word VERY loosely) that either have no bearing on the subject in hand or are just plain vindictive or venomous. It seems this nasty bit of work cannot comprehend the fact that everybody is openly laughing at his puerile efforts to get noticed and his resorting to infantile insults is the lowest of the low. Here’s hoping OOTB suffers a nervous breakdown – and very soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

First amendment

Davnel, the US Constitution only applies to government actions. The 1st prohibits government restrictions on speech, but does not broadly apply to possible private restrictions. A privately-owned mall, for example, can prohibit non-approved speech, including political speech. Similarly, the 1st has no meaningful legal bearing on most moderation of on-line comments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: First amendment

Davnel, the US Constitution only applies to government actions. The 1st prohibits government restrictions on speech, but does not broadly apply to possible private restrictions. A privately-owned mall, for example, can prohibit non-approved speech, including political speech. Similarly, the 1st has no meaningful legal bearing on most moderation of on-line comments.

Funny. That argument didn’t seem very compelling during the SOPA debate.

Anonymouse says:

two can play the same game...

Websites are visited and gain more traffic not on the word of political activists which most attorney generals are but becasue their site is a cool place to visit and provides an environment to do what the visitor wants to do.

It would hurt the attorney general more if a full page add was taken out claiming that the attorney general was corrupted into attacking a site than any advertisement against a business, especially if a few sites owners had to get together and attack them.

Who is going to believe the AG when it is shown over and over again that they accept legal bribes and monies for themselves to use on whatever they want, where they receive paid holidays all the time to do attacks on others or to help pass laws. Seriously i don’t think websites have any problem as long as they attack the AG where it hurts, in the press , with attacking their moral conduct in public , just as the AG has done and made acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Free Speech

Politicians hate people discussing politics in a public forum, it open them up to criticism. This is the sort of site they would like to shut down, by forcing site owners to not accept comments, or moderate every comment.
Carried to is extreme, it would result in hosting providers moderating everything posted to sites that use their services.

Anonymous Coward says:

this is the trouble when those that have more power than brains get into positions of having and wanting to use that power. without the brains to back up the thoughts, all thoughts, ideas etc become stupid! they dont have the part that brains give to balance out the bad things by bringing in the good, so the bad takes over. then, everything goes to rat shit and it takes an inordinate amount of time to correct. if these people were to learn to keep their mouths shut good and tight until their brains allowed them to open, perhaps these incidents would become less frequent? i am surprised they haven’t just tried to shut down the whole internet and have done with it? perhaps when Ford or Chrysler gets sued for a driver running a child down, these fucking morons will see the error of their ways?

John Smith says:

Too many people have been harmed by things like “revenge porn.” You can thank women like Holly Jacobs for putting a hotter, more human face on what’s wrong with Section 230. Women voters are outraged that websites use 230 to protect themselves against revenge-porn charges.

Section 230 should never have been passed, and anyone who dismisses the pain of those whose reputations have been ruined by it can thank thejmselves for the inevitable overreaction that is about to come from Washington.

SOPA isn’t far behind. The intern et is finally growing up.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“…and anyone who dismisses the pain of those whose reputations have been ruined by it can thank thejmselves…”

Why? Were we the ones who acted irresponsibly? Were we foolish enough to do something in front of witness’ that we didn’t want anyone to see? It isn’t my fault people were brought up to believe they can do anything and have no consequences.

And no I don’t agree with those sites, but I don’t need techdirt shutdown because less than average joe posts a link to a movie or a torrent site. So, “John Smith,” go fuck yourself and if you wish to keep it private, then keep it private.

Luis Mier (user link) says:


An exemption to Sectio 230 when an attorney general brings in a case would worsen the stand of all the interactive computer services because the websites would then be held responsible for any derogatory content published by the users. However, as per the section the sites do get a leeway as they do not have a controlon what the user of their websites publish. But this is what the attorney generals take an advantage and try to attract attention, favor and applause. Why should the companies be penalized for something which is not under their control (leaving a few exceptions) and why should they be butchered if the attorney generals do not like some companies? In the whole process the innovativeness of such companies goes for a tossas the website companies are liable for misuse of their services.

Persephone (profile) says:

People's lives matter

You bet the site should be blamed in the worst cases, its enabled, supported, facilitated and encouraged Harm to people, to their lives. Anyone who cares about their fellow human beings and their safety, their rights, would want them protected. The AGs and Tech itself need to stand up for essential human rights, there has been this moral blip and the results have been disastrous. Tech(dirt etc.) has a responsibility to clean up this mess, to show its Heart.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Monitor Everything (5)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Cool Components (1)
12:42 Tech Companies Ask European Commission Not To Wreck The Internet -- And You Can Too (4)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Play & Listen (1)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Beyond Chiptunes (12)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Updated Classics (3)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Celebrating Cities (1)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Crafts Of All Kinds (5)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: One Great Knob (13)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Simple Geeky Toys (2)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Gadgets For The New Year (18)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: A Post-Holiday Grab Bag (0)
13:34 How Private-Sector Innovation Can Help Those Most In Need (21)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Towards The Future Of Drones (17)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Artisanal Handheld Games (5)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: A New Approach To Smartphone VR (5)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Let's Bore The Censors (37)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Open Source For Your Brain (2)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: The Final Piece Of The VR Puzzle? (6)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: The Internet... Who Needs It? (15)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: The Light Non-Switch (18)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: 3D Printing And Way, Way More (7)
13:00 Techdirt Reading List: Learning By Doing (5)
12:43 The Stagnation Of eBooks Due To Closed Platforms And DRM (89)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: A Modular Phone For Makers (5)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Everything On One Display (4)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Everything Is Still A Remix (13)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Great Desk Toy, Or Greatest Desk Toy? (6)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: Sleep Hacking (12)
09:00 Awesome Stuff: A Voice-Operated Household Assistant (19)
More arrow