Section 230 Matters. Congress Needs To Be Reminded Of That

from the it-really-does dept

If you represent a tech company, please consider signing our letter to Congress from tech companies about concerns regarding the latest attempt to dismantle Section 230 of the CDA in a manner that will be completely counterproductive to the stated goals of the bill. Sex trafficking is an incredibly serious issue, and we support efforts by law enforcement and various groups to fight it -- but we are greatly concerned that the approach being put forth here will actually be counterproductive to that goal, and create numerous other problems.

As we've discussed over the past week, Congress has launched a highly questionable attempt to modify Section 230 of the CDA, ostensibly as an effort to takedown Backpage (ignoring (1) that they already passed another law two years ago targeting Backpage and then never used it (2) that the DOJ is already able to go after Backpage if it broke the law and may be investigating the company as we speak and (3) that Backpage has already shut down its adult section), but which will actually create havoc for basically the entire internet. It will do a variety of damaging things, including opening up every tech platform to frivolous lawsuits from individuals and fishing expeditions from states Attorneys General, if anyone uses any part of a platform in a manner that touches on sex trafficking. We've already discussed how the bill could kill Airbnb, for example.

But, really, the worst part of the bill is that it's entirely counterproductive. The tech industry may not be experts in trafficking, but we now have decades of experience dealing with what happens when you blame platforms for the actions of their users -- and the bill here won't help deal with trafficking, but could make a bad problem worse. CDA 230 works by encouraging platforms to moderate their content, by making sure that any attempts to moderate don't make the platform liable for the actions of users. This enables platform companies to freely monitor usage and manage their platforms responsibly. But under the new bill, should it become law, any "knowledge" of trafficking activity using the platform puts the platform itself at risk of violating both civil and criminal law. As such, any monitoring behavior is likely to be used against the platform. This only incentivizes companies to take a total "hands-off" approach to policing their own platform. And this is doubly ridiculous because the tech industry has worked closely with law enforcement over the years to combat trafficking, creating a variety of tech platforms and using big data to help find, target and stop trafficking. But under this bill, participating in those programs very likely will be used against these platforms. And this would be a real tragedy as it could lead to more trafficking, rather than less.

And, on top of that, as we saw when Craigslist was targeted in the past and trafficking just moved over to Backpage, the trafficking will continue and will move to platforms less interested in working with law enforcement (perhaps overseas platforms). The end result: (1) doesn't stop trafficking, (2) pushes tech companies not to cooperate for fear of greater liability and (3) creates massive other problems for those tech companies in the way of increased liability and frivolous lawsuits. It's a bad idea on nearly every front.

Mike Godwin has summarized the problems of the bill nicely with the following analogy:

... the bill would be as if Congress decided that FedEx was legally liable for anything illegal it ever carries, even where it’s ignorant of the infraction and acts in good faith. That would be a crazy notion in itself, but rather than applying only to FedEx's tech equivalents—the giants like Google and Facebook—it also would apply to smaller, less well-moneyed services like Wikipedia. Even if the larger internet companies can bear the burden of defending against a vastly increased number of prosecutions and lawsuits—and that’s by no means certain—it would be fatal for smaller companies and startups. Amending Section 230's broad liability protection for internet service providers would expand the scope of criminal and civil liability for those services in ways that would force the tech companies to drastically alter or eliminate features that users have come to rely on. It could strangle many internet startups in their cribs.

Because of all of this, our think tank organization, the Copia Institute, teamed up with our friends at Engine to put together an open letter from tech companies to Congress about this bill. We've put it up at 230matters.com. Some great tech/internet companies have already signed onto the letter, including Reddit, GitHub, Cloudflare, Medium, Automattic, Rackspace, Tucows and more. We'll be sending a second version of the letter in a few weeks, so if you represent a tech/internet company and have the authority to do so, you can sign the letter on that site (if you work at such a company and don't have the authority, please forward this to someone who does...). We all support the larger goal of stopping sex trafficking, but as these tech companies know all too well, this bill will actually harm that goal by making it harder for the companies to help in that process.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:02pm

    Funny how you don't mention the Jane Doe case, Mike. You know, the reason they're pushing this legislation. Also funny how you never discuss the COSTS of Section 230. You just cherry pick the benefits. Honesty, balance, and nuance just aren't in your skill set.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      Yawn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      What are the costs of Section 230, then?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:32pm

      Re:

      Section 230 allows you to spew your bullshit here without Techdirt having worry about having to erase them in order to keep a falsehood-free comment section.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:02pm

      Re:

      Yeah Mike. Stop mentioning facts and start mentioning the things that only exist in my head too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:19pm

      Re:

      "Funny how you don't mention the Jane Doe case, Mike. You know, the reason they're pushing this legislation."

      Not even the press release announcing the bill mentions a Jane Doe, so maybe you could enlighten us?

      "Also funny how you never discuss the COSTS of Section 230."

      Fell free to discuss them. We're all ears.

      "You just cherry pick the benefits."

      Without the protections of 230 many of the websites you're familiar with (and thousands you're not) that have user-generated content would likely not exist or be a shadow of their current selves. Big sites like YouTube and Facebook would probably never have reached a fraction of the size they are. So that's a pretty significant benefit to cherry pick.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 4:55pm

    Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

    Section 230 shields sites from liability for what users post. But in practice, that shield has been used to allow CLEARLY wrong advertising from which the sites gain.

    Section 230 starts out bad, made for the benefit of corporations. But law in the American system should only prohibit actions, not be a shield that allows corporations to ignore common law.

    You go off into hedging and doublespeak that I can't follow. Generous as I can be, your writing is nonsense, and I think it's because you're trying to "nuance" clear facts.

    I'll try the contrived Fedex "analogy" given by pro-corporations Godwin. No, in fact the packages are all open for anyone to glance in: the contents are text and images, so a single glance NECESSARILY spots illegal contents. The carriers must WILLFULY avoid knowledge. That the sites do nothing to stop the OBVIOUS -- despite repeated assertions that they're working with law enforcement -- is the problem.

    And for the old "there's too much to even check" argument: sites SHOULD have been fighting it from start instead of letting get out of control, and must now do what can to reduce. That TOO is a failure of the sites. If actual "moderation" is consistently applied instead of continuing doing nothing but collecting money, then the amount will inevitably lessen.

    And of course, the views of "Copia" are tailored to what corporations want:
    https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:02pm

      Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

      Federal law trumps common law, sir.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:13pm

        Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

        Stephen T. Stone sez: "Federal law trumps common law, sir."

        Ridiculous and UN-American. The Constitution is common law that authorizes the gov't to even exist. In theory, people elect representatives, not "law-makers". -- But I've already noted that you despise the Constitution, and here you're going off on utterly unsupported assertion against the underlying common law, so no surprise.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:16pm

          Re: Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

          Ridiculous and UN-American.

          I thought SovCits like you didn’t recognize the existence of America as a legitimate sociopolitical entity.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:54pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

            Stephen T. Stone sez: "I thought SovCits like you didn't recognize the existence of America as a legitimate sociopolitical entity."

            Whew! EPIC CONTRARIAN NONSENSE!

            First, I can't help what you think. Apparently you've no control, either, because that sentence is quite outre...

            2nd, what the hell is a "SovCits"? Term is new to me, and I modestly believe I'd have run across it before. You just made it up on the spot.

            3rd, implying I'm a "SovCits" for defending the American Constitution and system? That's being so crudely contrary as possible, simply reaching for one opposite word without regard to the rest.

            4th, making up "SovCits" who deny physical facts the size and influence of the United States? Astounding hyperbole even for "teh internets"!

            5th, "legitimate sociopolitical entity"??? Who the HELL writes a one-liner like that on a tiny little blog just to gainsay when simpler would be better? This "person" has NO sense of weighting words, just seems to have a large thesaurus!

            What this shows is that "Stephen T. Stone", IF there is such a person, is at best a simplistic contrarian who invents new words.

            The more I elicit from "Stephen T. Stone", the wackier.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:14pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

              If only there was some sort of website where you could type in terms you were unfamiliar with to discover their definition.

              Perhaps we could call these websites "search engines."

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:25pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

                SovCits are forbidden from using search engines. Something about mishandling of personal data sets between the person and the legal fiction, I think.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 9:53pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

              OutOfTehBlue just hates it when the Constitution overrides common law.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:05pm

      Re: Your argument is that obvious sex trafficking was rampant on Craiglist and Backpage, therefore no changes are needed.

      Oh look the sovereign citizen has a fresh take on section 230. That or it's his mothers pickle recipe. It's hard to tell with this particular nutjob.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:12pm

    Mike Masnick is just inciting people to purchase drugs, prostitution, and pornography (or, presumably, to steal them) online.

    Someone (or some unspecified ones) need to be told that they are sheeple, because upon learning that they are sheeple they will no longer value accuracy or coherency in their choice of reading material. And that must be very important (to some unspecified but interested party, in some unspecified way.)

    Now, if only everyone will just admit these obvious facts before discussing anything related to the actual topic, so much antagony and concomitant social stress could be avoided.

    It needn't be hard, just start every post with something like:

    "I'm a sheeple who couldn't find the nearest crack dealer without the internet. But even when Mike Masnick is not awake to operate the sock puppet, I still think there are other good reasons to support (or pillory) ...."

    "I really feel bad about scraping jam from the bleeding lips of the starving artists, so I came to Techdirt to make me feel better about watching cat videos on Youtube. Now, I don't care what happens to CDA 130 because I make my own meth in my mother's second-best trailer home, but ..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 9:49pm

      Re:

      Thats the best you got for an insult? Sheeple...really? I prefer the Russian trolls. At least they maintain a veil of proessionaliam.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:31pm

    The batshit crazy loon is back, just flag and move on

    He takes responses, even negative responses as encouragement. Don't encourage him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:47pm

      Re: The batshit crazy loon is back, just flag and move on

      Y'know, if people aren't into the whole "block all the anons" thing, my script can be trivially tweaked to block any post whose subject line exceeds 100 characters...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 5:58pm

        Re: Re: The batshit crazy loon is back, just flag and move on

        Not often, but once in a while, I write long subject lines, as do others who are not as deranged as this fool. While your effort and intent are appreciated, the potential for unintended consequences might be large, and not really quantifiable.

        There is a certain satisfaction in clicking that flag button. It is no where near instant gratification, as sometimes it take a while for others to flag enough to condense the comment to that scintillating "This comment has been flagged by the community..." result.

        Besides, he just might start writing shorter subjects, but still spew his idiotic rhetoric in the comment, just to get around your block.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: The batshit crazy loon is back, just flag and move on

          >>> There is a certain satisfaction in clicking that flag button. It is no where near instant gratification, as sometimes it take a while for others to flag enough to condense the comment to that scintillating "This comment has been flagged by the community..." result.

          Yes, childish censors love censoring. Glad you admit it. You could just skip over the text as adults do, though.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Thad, 9 Aug 2017 @ 10:57am

          Re: Re: Re: The batshit crazy loon is back, just flag and move on

          Besides, he just might start writing shorter subjects, but still spew his idiotic rhetoric in the comment, just to get around your block.

          And he could just quit posting anonymously to get around the block I'm already using, but he hasn't.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JMT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:03pm

    *"And this is doubly ridiculous because the tech industry has worked closely with law enforcement over the years to combat trafficking, creating a variety of tech platforms and using big data to help find, target and stop trafficking."*

    So why don't we hear an outcry from these law enforcement agencies? If there's a genuine interest from them in combating trafficking (and it bothers me I had to start that with an 'if'...) then they should be telling lawmakers how helpful the platforms can be, preferably loudly in public but in private if delicate egos must me protected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:09pm

      Re:

      [Law enforcement] should be telling lawmakers how helpful the platforms can be," -- They don't because the "platforms" aren't actually helpful to that purpose.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:10pm

        Re: Re: Browser session was blocked soon after my first comment was censored.

        But "Resend" worked!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2017 @ 1:54pm

        Re: Re:

        Yes, the platforms are "helpful" in finding and targeting specific law breaking individuals, but then law enforcement has to do actual "WORK" to catch those criminals...

        The platforms are not being "helpful" in the way of filling the law enforcement lobbying coffers with cash that they can throw at law makers to buy the new laws they want, and to justify increasing annual budgets (without any of that dirty "work" that is so often expected when additional funding is involved)...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:13pm

      Re:

      Yes, the platforms could be useful, but then they would have to go out of the office and actually investigate, something they seem to have forgotten how to do. Other than putting higher numbers in the win column (which is merely a political and funding objective), they don't seem to have any incentive to do their jobs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 10:09pm

        Re: Re:

        *"Yes, the platforms could be useful, but then they would have to go out of the office and actually investigate..."*

        I think maybe you misunderstood? Platforms like Backpage have helped law enforcement agencies by providing them into on users suspected of illegal activities like sex trafficking. It's not Backpage who leave the office and investigate anything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pegr, 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:40pm

    The cure for sex trafficing is easy

    Same as for drugs. Legalize it, then there's no more criminal influence in it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 9 Aug 2017 @ 11:01am

      Re: The cure for sex trafficing is easy

      While I support legalizing prostitution (so long as all parties involved are consenting adults), it's not that simple. There are places where prostitution is legal (like the Netherlands), and the rate of sex slavery isn't any lower in those places than in places where prostitution is illegal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 8:19pm

    kill the messinger..

    Dont just Kill him,
    Smash him, trash him, Slash him, Mash him....
    Then Draw and Quarter him and Bury him in an IRON maiden 10 feet under WATER..Covered in CEMENT..

    I asked before..WHO would take a RESOURCE that can be Monitored..and FLUSH IT..

    COVER everything up, and the World looks like a BED of roses..
    Is Naivety contagious, or are they just DOMESTICATING us more..
    REMEMBER: 1 Bull 100 cows.. all the rest are HAMBURGERS..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 9 Aug 2017 @ 1:32am

    What you are seeing here is the sort of pushback that should be expected. The Congress and such are starting to realize that section 230 is potentially more than a little overbroad and has allowed for things online that would not stand in the real world.

    It's difficult for them to fix it well and not cause great harm, but generally they work like a herd of elephants so plenty of stuff will get squished on the way by.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Aug 2017 @ 2:51am

      Re:

      The Congress and such are starting to realize that section 230 is potentially more than a little overbroad and has allowed for things online that would not stand in the real world.

      Almost as though different things require different treatment under the law, such that what is feasible and reasonable for one might not be so for the other...

      There's nothing 'overbroad' about 'The one who posted the illegal content is to blame not the service they used to post it, and expecting them to know in advance what should and should not be allowed is neither reasonable or feasible such that attempting to hold them to this standard would cause far more harm than it would prevent.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MyNameHere (profile), 9 Aug 2017 @ 5:44am

        Re: Re:

        I agree to a point. Part of the question is who is offering a "service" and who is a willing participant in illegal activities or is encouraging non-protected (aka illegal) speech.

        Too often, it seems section 230 is used as another way of separating the income from the bad acts. It also acts as a wall to protect those bad acts by making it nearly impossible to get subscriber or user information in the course of a lawsuit or legal action.

        It's much like bit torrent and piracy. Bit Torrent the protocol isn't at fault, but those who use it are. Having a "service" be able to protect people who are actively pirating and profit from that active piracy is wrong.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2017 @ 5:01am

      Re:

      Same could be said for the DMCA, but nobody sees you complaining.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2017 @ 2:18am

    Section 230 is not overbroad, but what is overbroad is the idea that if you do not police what people do, you are guilty of aiding them to commit crimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    stderric (profile), 9 Aug 2017 @ 5:47am

    Mike Godwin has summarized the problems of the bill nicely with the following analogy:

    It's the Mein Kampf of bills.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TheOtherDude, 9 Aug 2017 @ 6:29am

    get real

    This is a total misunderstanding of what modern legislators are doing. They invent problems (like sex trafficking which is just a euphemism for prostitution in the US) and they create bogus laws to "cure" the problem that never existed. It’s really hard to solve actual problems so they stay away from those (they might fail). Unless a bill is submitted by a special interest lobby or ALEC, etc, then its most likely designed to actually do nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2017 @ 12:36pm

    An example of discouraging companies from trying to provide security can be seen in the hotel industry. A woman was attacked in front of a hotel that had a security camera, no one was monitoring the camera during the attack and help wasn't sent. She sued the hotel and won.

    Next time you are in a hotel, take a look at the pool, no camera, right? Wouldn't it make sense to have a camera there? There isn't though, because then the hotel would be liable. Likewise, hotels usually don't install cameras pointed anywhere but the front desk (Vegas excluded.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Aug 2017 @ 8:50pm

    what DOES IT TAKE TO CREATE A laW..

    iN THE LAST 17 YEARS??
    Many of the laws have been abit WEIRD..
    more debating and arguing if we should keep it, or NOT, while killing OLDER laws the restricted Corps and banks..Finding out THATS NOT A GOOD IDEA...and trying to PUT THEM BACK..

    Anyone realize that many of those that created the bank laws years ago, ARE STILL IN OFFICE??(I think)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    justme2 (profile), 15 Aug 2017 @ 8:15pm

    stop people from advertising on bp in that section and you are going to see alot of men who cant get women to have sex with them and who have to pay for it, start grabbing women off of the street or breaking in their houses and start raping them. bp is not all about trafficking children. that is a cover up for prudish people who are trying to force their morals on people who dont necessarily want to live up to them. it is also trying to hurt some people like me who have no other choice than to do what i do to make a living and pay my rent etc. I am over 50 yrs old and ill be damned if i go back to living on the street and i sure in the hell am not going to get married again to some narcissist asshole so he can support me and I can go thru hell again. Think before you pass this bill. You will be hurting some of us that seriously do this to pay our bills and for no other reason. I do not do drugs, drink or smoke. I am female.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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