Section 230 Isn't About Facebook, It's About You

from the know-what-you've-got-before-it's-gone dept

Longtime Techdirt readers know how important Section 230 is for the Internet to work, as well as many of the reasons why the proposed SESTA bill threatens the operation of the law, and with it the operation of the Internet. But especially for people less familiar with the ins and outs of Section 230, as the law hangs in the balance, we want to take moment to explain why it’s something that everyone should want to preserve.

These days a lot of people are upset with Facebook, along with many other of its fellow big Internet companies. Being upset with these companies can make it tempting to try to punish them with regulation that might hurt them. But it does no good to punish them with regulation that will end up hurting everyone ? including you.

Yet that?s what the bill Congress is about to vote on will do. SESTA (or sometimes SESTA-FOSTA) would make changes that reduce the effectiveness of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. While a change to this law would certainly hurt the Facebooks of the world, it is not just the Facebooks that should care. You should too, and here’s why.

Section 230 is a federal statute that says that people who use the Internet are responsible for how they use it?but only those people are, and not those who provide the services that make it possible for people to use the Internet in the first place. The reason it’s important to have this law is because so many people ? hundreds, thousands, millions, if not billions of people ? use these services to say or do so many things on the Internet. Of course, the reality is, sometimes people use these Internet services to say or do dumb, awful, or even criminal things, and naturally we have lots of laws to punish these dumb, awful, or criminal things. But think about what it would mean for Internet service providers if all those laws that punish bad ways people use the Internet could be directed at them. Even for big companies like Facebook it would be impossibly expensive to have to defend themselves every time someone used their services in these unfortunate ways. Section 230 means that they don’t have to, and that they can remain focused on providing Internet services for all the hundreds, thousands, millions, if not billions of people ? including people like you ? who use their services in good ways.

If, however, Section 230 stops effectively protecting these service providers, then they will have to start limiting how people can use their services because it will be too expensive to risk letting anyone use their services in potentially wrongful ways. And because it?s not possible for Internet service providers to correctly and accurately filter the sheer volume of content they intermediate, they will end up having to limit too much good content in order to make sure they don?t end up in trouble for having limited too little of the bad.

This inevitable censorship should matter to you even if you are not a Facebook user, because it won’t just be Facebook that will be forced to censor how you use the Internet. Ever bought or sold something on line? Rented an apartment? Posted or watched a video? Found anything useful through a search engine? Your ability to speak, learn, buy, sell, complain, organize, or do anything else online depends on Internet services being able to depend on Section 230 to let you. It isn’t just the big commercial services like Facebook who need Section 230, but Internet service providers of all sorts of shapes and sizes, including broadband ISPs, email providers, online marketplaces, consumer review sites, fan forums, online publications that host user comments? Section 230 even enables non-commercial sites like Wikipedia. As a giant collection of information other people have provided, if Section 230?s protection evaporates, then so will Wikipedia’s ability to provide this valuable resource.

Diminishing Section 230’s protection also not only affects your ability to use existing Internet services, but new ones too. There?s a reason so many Internet companies are based in the United States, where Section 230 has made it safe for start-ups to develop innovative services without fear of crippling liability, and then grow into successful businesses employing thousands. Particularly if you dislike Facebook you should fear a future without Section 230: big companies can afford to take some lumps, but without Section 230’s protection good luck ever getting a new service that’s any better.

And that’s not all: weakening Section 230 not only hurts you by hurting Internet service providers; it also hurts you directly. Think about emails you forward. Comment threads you allow on Facebook posts. Tweets you retweet. These are all activities Section 230 can protect. After all, you’re not the person who wrote the original emails, comments, or tweets, so why should you get in trouble if the original author said or did something dumb, awful, or even criminal in those emails, comments, or tweets? Section 230 makes many of the ordinary ways you use the Internet possible, but without it all bets are off.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: facebook

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 “Section 230 Isn't About Facebook, It's About You”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
30 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Here’s Mike trying to tell people that GDPR is bad because it prevents poor, misunderstood, altruistic Facebook from spying on you for your own protection:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180128/21505439105/unintended-consequences-eus-new-internet-privacy-rules-facebook-wont-use-ai-to-catch-suicidal-users.shtml

…and if you search the site, you can find plenty of other posts by Masnick trying to use various emotional arguments to try to turn people against GDPR, and therefore against their own privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

…Did you read that article you linked to? Nowhere in that did he say it was bad. In fact:

There are many things in there that are good to see — in large part improving transparency around what some companies do with all your data, and giving end users some more control over that data.

He’s not saying GDPR is bad. He is saying that because of the way it’s worded, it will by default limit some innovation, such as using AI to try and determine if someone is going to commit suicide.

He also states:

That’s not to say that companies should be free to do whatever they want. There are, obviously LOTS of reasons to be concerned and worried about just how much data some large companies are collecting on everyone.

And continues:

But it frequently feels like people are acting as if any data collection is bad, and thus needs to be blocked or stopped, without taking the time to recognize just what kind of innovations we may lose.

Point being, not all data collection is bad but companies shouldn’t be allowed to collect whatever they want whenever they want either.

So, no, you’re wrong and are just trying to attack this site with whatever you can twist to your advantage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: glad it's facebook fighting

If anyone is going to get stuck defending Section 230’s protections…

If you carefully read Mike’s comment over under the other article, then he doesn’t actually say that Facebook isn’t going to fight. He doesn’t actually make a prediction, one way or the other. That’s reading carefully. Instead he himself says—

There are multiple internet companies who believe this is 100% true. And, so far, Facebook has done nothing at all to counter that opinion.

Short version: Facebook isn’t fighting. They see this as an opportunity to knock off the competition.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: glad it's facebook fighting

If anyone is going to get stuck defending Section 230’s protections, I’m glad it’s one of the large, uber-wealthy tech giants stuck in that role rather than a small blog owner/operator. Just sayin’.

Uh, it’s exactly the opposite. Facebook is SUPPORTING this legislation. It’s the small sites that will be left to fight this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: glad it's facebook fighting

Uh, it’s exactly the opposite. Facebook is SUPPORTING this legislation.

Cathy Gellis’s article here does not clearly convey this point.

When Cathy writes—

While a change to this law would certainly hurt the Facebooks of the world, it is not just the Facebooks that should care.

 —Any reasonable reader might naturally take away the impression that Facebook opposes the bill.

Cathy Gellis (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: glad it's facebook fighting

This is a fair point. But it’s an odd situation: I think much of the legislative glee behind the law is to stick it Facebook, whom everyone is mad at for all the election stuff. And it’s just weird that Facebook is running around being masochistically obtuse by saying that they’re cool with it. (As Mike speculates in his post, Facebook may really not get Section 230 and think they are fine. Or they think maybe it’s better to support this than whatever Congress might cook up next (although frankly I think the first scenario is more likely).)

But I wrote the post this way because I know there’s legislative animus against Facebook, and I suspect that many think that SESTA is being driven by legislative animus (and I don’t think they are wrong). I had considered writing the post using Google as the example big company instead, because there’s legislative animus against them too, but Google is less in the news these days, and people’s own use of Google doesn’t frame the Section 230 issue as clearly as people’s use of Facebook does.

John Smith says:

Total propaganda: the US is the only western nation that has CDA230, and it ruins lives while enriching lawyers. This is why the small, vocal group of lawyers and their computer friends are in favor of it.

Let someone demolish their reputation in Google and I doubt they’d not flip sides on the issue. That they’d tolerate it happening to others says all you need to know about them. If people choose to be evil or stupid don’t try to change them, just build a world around them and avoid not just them, but those who call them friend or who value their opinions. Your DNA will thank you.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the US is the only western nation that has CDA230, and it ruins lives while enriching lawyers.

What lawyers is it enriching.

Also, note that almost every major internet success story is based in the US? Perhaps that’s because of CDA 230.

And nothing about CDA 230 "ruins lives." As noted, it enables more moderation of platforms because of its protections WHILE also helping to support free speech for those who need it most.

And, really, what do you think happens when you take away CDA 230? As noted, sites will choose one of two paths: refuse to moderate ANYTHING for fear of having knowledge and becoming liable (meaning MORE of your so-called life ruining) or take down EVERYTHING you get a complaint on, meaning tons of suppressed speech.

How is that a good solution?

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t have a website. I post content, of various sorts, on websites maintained by corporations–some of them large/for-profit, some small/for-profit, some large/charitable, some small-charitable.

The most important content I post, goes to sites maintained by small and/or charitable corporations. These are precisely the sites that will be driven out of existance (“out of business” really is the wrong term for non-business sites) by the mere threat of draconian requirements and penalties. The large, for-profit corporations will be able to fight, and win, in court: since their mission is profit rather than hosting specific kinds of content they can afford to abandon all content monitoring–making it easier to engage in sex trafficking there.

All this is perfectly obvious.

So let’s pass a law making it easier for sex traffickers to use large sites unmonitored, while driving educational non-profits out of business.

There are apparently people who feel that this is an acceptable amount of social damage, so long as it might hurt the profits of some company that’s providing useful services to ordinary people–you know, the Googles and Facebooks of the world. They are sick, just as sick as the customers of the sex traffickers….just diseased in a different lobe of the brain.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Your ability to speak, learn, buy, sell, complain, organize, or do anything else online depends on Internet services being able to depend on Section 230 to let you." -- No, it doesn't. How did society using PRINT work?

Section 230 makes EXCEPTIONS to all prior law. We now know how corporations will exploit privilege. Time to make “teh internets” behave just like all other business.

You first inflate the importance, then totally ignore that Section 230 just lets corporations gain money without effort or risk. That must end.

Section 230 is NOT license to ignore even when brought to attention: it just reduces direct responsibility WHEN sites act in “good faith”.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: "Your ability to speak, learn, buy, sell, complain, organize, or do anything else online depends on Internet services being able to depend on Section 230 to let you." -- No, it doesn't. How did society using PRINT work?

“How did society using PRINT work?”

By having a very limited amount of content and significant costs associated with printing and distributing everything they prints, on a one-off, daily, weekly, monthly, whatever schedule. The staff working for the publication are responsible for creating all content, except for a small amount of curated user content. This allows for humans to effectively edit and check all content, and realistically have a single human editor in place who is responsible for all content.

None of this is possible, or even desirable, in an online system where thousands of pages of content can be generated by people who are not employed or edited in any way by the publisher before publication. It’s a fundamentally different paradigm, and must therefore be treated differently. Section 230 offers one very simple rule, but one that is vital for online publications to operate with user generated content – the people who wrote the content are responsible for what’s in it, not the website they wrote it on. This isn’t that much different from the print days, in fairness, it’s just that the publication don’t employ the people who generate the content like they did in the old days, so they must be protected.

As usual, you’d be much less of an obnoxious angry fool if you bothered to learn the fundamental nature of what you complain about.

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 »