Stop Saying That Section 230 Was A 'Gift To Internet Companies'
from the it's-a-gift-to-the-public dept
Saying that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) is a “gift” to internet companies that should be taken away because some people use the internet badly is like saying the interstate highway system is a “gift” to the big shipping companies, and should be destroyed because some people send illegal things via UPS or Fedex.
As Section 230 is increasingly under attack, one of the most common lines we hear about it is that it was somehow a “gift to internet companies.” I heard something along those lines at least three times last week, not even counting Nancy Pelosi’s misguided characterization of 230, in which she said:
?230 is a gift to them, and I don?t think they are treating it with the respect that they should,? she said. ?And so I think that that could be a question mark and in jeopardy. … For the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed.?
Except, as we noted last week, this gets the entire story backwards. The point of Section 230 is not to benefit the big internet companies. It is to benefit the public. It has enabled them to speak freely on the internet, because Section 230 has freed up the ability of platforms to host user-generated content without fear of being held liable for it. Do some people post awful (or even illegal) things? Absolutely. But just as we don’t demand smashing up the interstate highway just because some drug dealers ship drugs via Fedex, we shouldn’t demand the government rip up Section 230.
The overwhelming beneficiaries of Section 230 are the public. It has — incidentally — helped some internet companies stay out of some misguided and often vexatious legal threats by simply stating that any legal action should be directed at those actually responsible. That’s not a “gift” — it’s a protection against frivolous, misguided lawsuits.
So the next time you see people claiming that Section 230 was gift to the internet companies, please remind them it’s not at all true — but rather that Section 230 was a gift to the public, enabling more freedom of expression online, and enabling the internet to take root. Ripping up 230 because of a few examples of bad content online would be like ripping out the interstate highway system to prevent anyone from shipping drugs. It is both a massive overreaction and a totally misdirected one.