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.

Filed Under: cda 230, free speech, intermediary liability, nancy pelosi, section 230


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 10:27am

    Gift that keeps on giving

    Despite the misguided opinions of a few AC's, it's 230 that lets them come and complain about it. Otherwise goodby comment sections.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:56am

      Re: Gift that keeps on giving

      You know, Gary, your constant "Where's Poochie?" references to the trolls are only slightly less obnoxious than the trolls themselves.

      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, 17 Apr 2019 @ 12:06pm

        Re: Re: Gift that keeps on giving

        Just as your off-topic replies to his comments are, you mean?

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

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 1:06pm

        Re: Re: Gift that keeps on giving

        Normally I try to avoid invoking the screwballs until they have landed, but any ref to 230 has been triggering such a flood of responses lately.
        But 230 is such an important part of the user generated content it blows my mind when folks misrepresent it's actual effects. Between BB claiming it makes moderation illegal and JS constantly crying about the blackmailers, articles with 230 in the subject seem to get flooded by nonsense.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 2:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gift that keeps on giving

          In which case you can rightly rebut/mock them when they show up, but troll-baiting or even mentioning them before then is giving them way more attention and thought than they deserve.

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 4:34pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gift that keeps on giving

          Yeah, but I block those guys. I wrote a script for it and everything. I'm not interested in engaging with their nonsense.

          If you want to respond to them, well, I wouldn't recommend it but I don't have to see that either; I block replies to blocked/flagged posts and I'm much happier that way.

          I haven't blocked you because I like you; you're a sharp guy and you make good points. But given the sheer number of threads I've opened where the first post is you feeding a troll who hasn't even shown up yet, I gotta say I've considered it.

          (Hell, last month you kicked off a thread by baiting a troll who I haven't even seen around in...months, maybe?)

          Let me put it this way: you're using the same tactic that the trolls do. Blue likes to come in and post about himself in the third person ("OOTB's heroes, ladies and gentlemen" or whatever); he or one of the other dipshits will also routinely post some variation on "Came here to see Hamilton have a meltdown; was not disappointed." It is a thing that the trolls do on purpose to call attention to themselves.

          Do not be like them.

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 4:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gift that keeps on giving

          Whee, wrote a reply but I used some examples of troll posts and it got held.

          In case it doesn't show up: the point I made in the as-yet-held post was that Blue pops in and posts little "oh Blue isn't going to like this" comments all the damn time. Don't be like Blue.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 10:59am

    Equality is a 'gift' now?

    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

    It's not a 'gift' at all, rather it's applying the same rule that offline companies already are covered by to online companies: If someone does something bad, you are only allowed to punish them, not the tool/platform they used.

    Is it a 'gift' to Ford that they aren't blamed for people using their vehicles to speed?

    It is a 'gift' to Comcast that they aren't blamed for people using the internet service they provide to engage in all sorts of crimes?

    It it a 'gift' to Walmart that if someone buys a gun or knife in their store and uses it against someone else Walmart isn't held legally liable for it?

    230 is not a 'gift', either to the companies or the public, rather it's codifying the basic idea of 'If someone does something bad then they are responsible, not the tool/platform they used' such that online companies/platforms get the same protections that offline ones already got.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:43am

      Re: Equality is a 'gift' now?

      Pelosi misunderstands what a "gift" is. Something given with an expectation of valuable reciprocation is a payment, not a gift. Perhaps the FBI should re-evaluate "gifts" to her from lobbyists, under her new definition.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 2:09pm

        Re: Re: Equality is a 'gift' now?

        "Perhaps the FBI should re-evaluate "gifts" to her from lobbyists,"

        They are still trying to figure out why Trump's tower is exempt from the emoluments clause.

        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, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:03am

    Section 230 was a gift to development of the internet.

    We've seen companies take on the role of editor in conflict with requirements set out by 230, while continuing to enjoy protections. Increasingly this is used to harm the business and protected speech of users on those platforms.

    We're not in Section 230 any longer toto, need some teeth for enforcement when a tech giant deviates from that path.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:09am

      230 gives companies the right to moderate UGC as it sees fit (within the boundaries of the law). Any platform can engage in “viewpoint discrimination” if a certain viewpoint is one that the platform’s owners/operators do not want on said platform. If Twitter wants to ban plague protectionists (a.k.a. anti-vaxxers) from the service, that is their right; the same goes for a White supremacist forum and pro-Black Lives Matter propaganda. No law, statute, or court ruling has yet to say otherwise.

      “Neutrality” is not a requirement to receive 230 protections. If you believe otherwise, you might want to cite the foundation for that belief.

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

      • icon
        Killercool (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 12:34pm

        Re:

        It will, inevitably, be some variation of "common law," where common law means "what I wish was law" instead of it's real meaning of "jurisprudence."

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 2:15pm

          Re: Re:

          agreed. And use of the term now sets off alarms, I think it is a dog whistle. imo, The term common law is not used constantly by the public.

          Sometimes it is used in reference to cases that set Precedent, while other times it refers to the old way things were done before there was a sheriff. For example, they used to lynch run away slaves.

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

      • identicon
        Roy Rogers, 17 Apr 2019 @ 3:27pm

        Re:

        "Any platform can engage in “viewpoint discrimination” if a certain viewpoint is one that the platform’s owners/operators do not want on said platform."

        If they don't want to be public, keep it private and invite only the people who share your opinion. Close the comments section. Or do you want a one-way broadcast system where it looks like everyone agrees with you because there is no opposing opinion?

        You okay with twitter banning LGB and sometimes T? Because twitter doesn't share your views or maybe they are transphobic? I'm going to go out on a limb and say we would hear shrieks declaring discrimination regarding their viewpoints. That twitter is transphobic. That they have just as much right to post in a public space as anyone else.

        Do you know of any sites now that you are being forced to visit on the open public internet only to see a viewpoint you dislike?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 8:47pm

          Re: Apples and Trout

          We’ll it’s a good thing Twitter is a private company and not a public entity now isn’t it. They can ban whoever they want however they want. If they suffer public outrage that is an entirely separate deal to having the state force them to host or ban legal content.

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 4:13am

          Twitter already bans LGBT users if they violate the terms of service. It does not ban based on specific political ideology. If it did, however, I would determine if I wanted to keep using Twitter based on what ideologies it chose to ban.

          I do not oppose “dissenting opinion”. I oppose hateful, harmful ideologies aimed at the marginalized people of our society (e.g., anti-gay, anti-trans, pro-White supremacy). Any platform that bans such ideologies from being talked about in a positive manner is a platform with which I have no issue.

          And I am not forced to visit any website on the Internet that contains dissenting opinions and viewpoints I despise — although I do read news and opinion sites that talk about, for example, anti-gay rhetoric. That gives me a peek into those worlds without my having to dive into the black hole. That alone is enough.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 6:50am

          Re: Re:

          If they don't want to be public, keep it private and invite only the people who share your opinion.

          They aren't public, not in the legal definition of the term as it relates to free speech. They are a private organization and as such can allow or disallow whatever speech they want (with some narrow exceptions).

          Close the comments section.

          Again, this doesn't make them "public" in the eyes of the law. They are still a private organization. Just because the public has access to it at large, doesn't make them a public government entity subject to the First Amendment. Like any brick and mortar business. NOT like government buildings, parks, roads, etc...

          Or do you want a one-way broadcast system where it looks like everyone agrees with you because there is no opposing opinion?

          Logical fallacy.

          You okay with twitter banning LGB and sometimes T?

          If they violated the platform terms of service, absolutely! But Twitter is LEGALLY barred from banning them based on their LGBT status. Your own personal opinion is not legally protected like that and as such, they can ban you for it if they so choose.

          I'm going to go out on a limb and say we would hear shrieks declaring discrimination regarding their viewpoints.

          Only if they were banned just for being LGBT. If they were giving their personal opinion/viewpoint, some people may shriek (like you are doing) but that would be legally within their rights to do so. It's NOT against the law to ban someone based on their personal or political viewpoints.

          That they have just as much right to post in a public space as anyone else.

          Twitter is not a public space. It's a private space that is open to the public. That doesn't make it "public" as far as the First Amendment is concerned. That only applies to government.

          Do you know of any sites now that you are being forced to visit

          Considering it's my choice when to open my internet browser or not, no? I'm not forced to view anything on the internet but I'm not sure what that has to do with your point.

          on the open public internet

          Yes, the internet itself is open and public (as in First Amendment) but that doesn't mean every single platform or website ON the internet is. The internet is not all the platforms and websites. The internet is the infrastructure that connects them all together.

          only to see a viewpoint you dislike?

          Oh there are lots of viewpoints on the internet I dislike. Yours being one of them. It's stupid and displays a level of ignorance and technical illiteracy that I find frankly moronic. But, platforms are allowed to let whatever refuse and dreck they want to on their platform (with some narrow exceptions), just the same as they can ban that same refuse and dreck if they want to (with some narrow exceptions, and political viewpoints aren't included in those exceptions).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      "We've seen companies take on the role of editor in conflict with requirements set out by 230"

      Which requirements are you lying about today?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 12:58pm

      Re: Bring it on motherfucer

      Remember last night when you went full retard and left forever? Or were you too drunkies bro?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:14am

    And now we know...

    The DMCA including section 230 had to be passed to see what was in it. All hail omniscient Pelosi.

    /s

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:27am

      Re: And now we know...

      Impressive how you managed to fit so much wrongness into such a short comment.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 2:18pm

      Re: And now we know...

      That statement made by Pelosi is interesting in that it could mean that no congressional member could have read the bill before the vote was taken because it is many pages long and was delivered at the last minute ... you know SOP.

      The POS bill was written by industry, not your representatives, but you knew that.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:43am

      Re: And now we know...

      The DMCA including section 230 had to be passed to see what was in it.

      230 is a section of the Communications Decency Act (1996) not the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (1998).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:32am

    Both the far-left and the far-right love censorship, and as they've recently made major gains into both political parties, the war against free speech will likely continue to get even worse.

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

  • icon
    ysth (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:44am

    Interstate and Defense Highway System

    Reminder that the only thing that got us federal highways was saber rattling: “in case of atomic attack on our key cities, the road net [would] permit quick evacuation of target areas.” etc etc.

    Makes me wonder what it's going to take to get a federal anti SLAPP law.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 11:50am

      I bet a baseless lawsuit against Donald Trump being allowed to go forward would do the trick. The issue there is, what lawsuit against him would be baseless?

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 17 Apr 2019 @ 4:35pm

        Re:

        Stormy's defamation suit got thrown out on anti-SLAPP grounds. I suppose if somebody filed a similar suit in a state without an anti-SLAPP law, maybe.

        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, 17 Apr 2019 @ 3:32pm

    "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."

    No, it's actually nothing like that, and you truly are a moron.

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

  • identicon
    hegemon13, 18 Apr 2019 @ 7:43am

    It's not a gift to anyone. It's a lesser theft.

    If a bully steals all your lunch money and lets you keep a nickel, that nickel is not a gift. It was yours to start with. When the DMCA stripped away consumers' rights to their own properties and saddled platforms with liability for the actions of their users, section 230 was not a gift. It was a slightly lesser theft of rights.

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 18 Apr 2019 @ 9:47am

      Re: It's not a gift to anyone. It's a lesser theft.

      When the DMCA stripped away consumers' rights to their own properties and saddled platforms with liability for the actions of their users, section 230 was not a gift.

      Section 230 is part of the CDA, not the DMCA.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 1:27pm

      Read it again Sam.

      Section 230 does not allow anyone to steal anything.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2019 @ 3:13pm

    "[Election to Congress] is a gift to them, and I don’t think they are treating it with the respect that they should,”
    “And so I think that that could be a question mark and in jeopardy. ... For the privilege of [Election to Congress], there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed.”

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2019 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      ^^That is so 1950s thinking. Morality is dead. Next someone will say that elected officials have a responsibility to the public that elected them.

      In the last several decades, it has became apparent that once an individual is in a position of power, their actions and beliefs are justifiable. It is assumed that because one is an individual of political power, that they must be wiser than the general public and deserving or greater latitude.

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


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