The NY Times Got It Backwards: Section 230 Helps Limit The Spread Of Hate Speech Online

from the get-it-straight dept

A few weeks back, we wrote about the NY Times absolutely terrible front page of the Business Section headline that, incorrectly, blamed Section 230 for "hate speech" online, only to later have to edit the piece with a correction saying oh, actually, it's the 1st Amendment that allows "hate speech" to exist online. Leaving aside the problematic nature of determining what is, and what is not, hate speech -- and the fact that governments and autocrats around the globe regularly use "hate speech" laws to punish people they don't like (which is often the marginalized and oppressed) -- the entire claim that Section 230 "enables" hate speech to remain online literally gets the entire law backwards.

In a new piece, Carl Szabo, reminds people about the second part of Section 230, which is what says that websites aren't held liable for their moderation choices in trying to get rid of "offensive" content. Everyone focuses on part (c)(1) of the law, the famous "26 words" that note:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

But section (c)(2) is also important, and part of what makes it possible for companies to clean up the internet:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—

(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1)

That part was necessary to respond to (and directly overrule) the ruling in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, in which a colorful NY judge ruled that because Prodigy moderated its forums to keep them "family friendly," it was then legally liable for all the content it didn't moderate. The entire point of 230 was to create this balancing carrot and stick, in which companies would have incentive both to allow third parties to post content but also to make their own decisions and experiment with how to moderate.

As Szabo notes, it's this part of (c)(2) that has kept the internet from getting overwhelmed by spam, garbage and hate speech.

Section 230(c)(2) enables Gmail to block spam without being sued by the spammers. It lets Facebook remove hate speech without being sued by the haters. And it allows Twitter to terminate extremist accounts without fear of being hauled into court. Section 230(c)(2) is what separates our mainstream social media platforms from the cesspools at the edge of the web.

[....]

While some vile user content is posted on mainstream websites, what is often unreported is how much of this content is removed. In just six months, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube took action on 11 million accounts for terrorist or hate speech. They moderated against 55 million accounts for pornographic content. And took action against 15 million accounts to protect children.

All of these actions to moderate harmful content were empowered by Section 230(c)(2).

What isn't mentioned is that, somewhat oddly, the courts have mostly ignored (c)(2). Even in cases where you'd think the actions of various internet platforms are protected under (c)(2), nearly every court notes that (c)(1)'s liability protections also cover the moderation aspect. To me, that's always been a bit weird, and a little unfortunate. It gets people way too focused on (c)(1), without realizing that part of the genius in the law is the way it balances incentives with the combination of (c)(1) and (c)(2).

Either way, for those who keep arguing that Section 230 is why we have too much garbage online, the only proper response is that they're wrong. Section 230 also encourages platforms to clean up the internet. And many take that role quite seriously (sometimes too seriously). But it has resulted in widespread experimentation on content moderation that is powerful and useful. Taking away Section 230's protections, or limiting them, will make it that much more difficult.

Filed Under: content moderation, free speech, hate speech, section 230


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 3:56pm

    And all that progress, all that “cleanliness”, goes away if 230 is destroyed. Not that any of the lawmakers proposing to eliminate or undercut 230 seem to care…

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

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:02pm

    "NY Times" and "Got It Backwards"

    I think you repeated yourself there, Mike.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:04pm

    Yes, 230 is great for censorship pretending to be moderation

    Section 230 definitely helps unethical pieces of garbage censor political viewpoints. NYT is on crack.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:06pm

      Please explain how Twitter kicking a White supremacist off Twitter stops that White supremacist from expressing their opinions on Black people elsewhere on the Internet.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        icon
        Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:00pm

        Re:

        Please explain how "learn to code" was suddenly called "racism" by the Southern Poverty Law Center after a day of Twitter deciding that nonsense was reality.

        Checkmate.

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:27pm

          This has literally nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Your attempt at deflection has failed.

          Please explain how Twitter kicking a White supremacist off Twitter stops that White supremacist from expressing their opinions on Black people elsewhere on the Internet.

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

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 7:22pm

          Re: Re:

          Note: "learn to code" is, as one should expect coming from Zof the Liar's world of false narratives, not so innocent as he pretends.

          In the real world, it's become something vaguely similar to the mailing of five orange pips.

          "Learn to code" is meant as a thinly vailed threat aimed at a journalist it's sent to; that they should now be afraid that if they say something they alt-right doesn't like, they might find themselves in the crosshairs of the alt-right's next targeted harassment/smear campaign†

          I.e.: "You should learn to code, because you won't have your job as as a journalist much longer."

          † see also: Sarah Jeong, James Gunn

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:11pm

          Re: Have you tried not being a racist piece of shit?

          You’re as bad about “Learn to code” as blue balls is about “ignorant motherfucker.”

          Chexmix!

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:23pm

      Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation

      Section 230 definitely helps unethical pieces of garbage censor political viewpoints.

      Yes!! Without it Gab, Stormfront, InfoWars, and FauxNews couldn't operate!

      And here I thought Zaf was just a one sided piece of racist trash.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        icon
        Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:02pm

        Re: Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation

        Sorry Child, you are telling 1 percent of the story. There are hundreds of thousands of resources that have been banned based on your childish logical fallacy. Not just the stuff that nobody ever cared about. Your childish obvious red herring.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:06pm

        Re: Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation

        How do you tell Zof is that sad?

        By the fact that he outraced blue to post blue's shitposts for blue...

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

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          icon
          Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:12pm

          Re: Re: Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation

          You still don't matter, anonymous Stephen T Stone. I mean, you get we know that's who you are right? You couldn't be more obvious kid.

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

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:29pm

            Geez, man, your paranoia is reaching Blue’s level.

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

            • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
              identicon
              Blue Balls, 11 Sep 2019 @ 7:32pm

              Re:

              ZOF does not speak for the A1 white citizens - his jewfro is obviously part of a GLOBALIST plot.

              Horizontal Line CEnSORED

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:13pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation bitch

            You still don't matter zof.

            Never did

            Never will bro

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:15pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Yes, 230 is great for moderation

            Swing and a miss.

            Stone is far less willing to bait the trolls. Unfortunately for you, not everyone is that much of a gentleman.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:10pm

    Section 230 definitely helps moderate unethical pieces of garbage, like me, on crack.

    FTFY.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      icon
      Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:04pm

      Re:

      oh, a childish little coward that doesn't matter acted like one.

      HOW SURPSPRISING!

      LOL!!!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:14pm

        Re: Re:

        “oh, a childish little coward that doesn't matter acted like one.
        HOW SURPSPRISING!
        LOL!!!”

        Gentlemen. May I present to you the queen of projection.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:13pm

    You folks do know that...

    Stephen T Stone is Mike Masnick, right?

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      icon
      Zof (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:15pm

      Re: You folks do know that...

      I've known forever.

      : )

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 6:37pm

      Re: You folks do know that...

      Stephen T Stone is Mike Masnick, right?

      What would be the point of that? Mike is perfectly able to reply here with a verbal smackdown of his own. He doesn't need an alternate ID to do it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:15pm

      Re: You folks do know that...

      Zof IS blue balls!

      And totally not just another paranoid racist oaf.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:17pm

        Re: Re: You folks do know that...

        Funny as hell that would be, Zof is miles more coherent than blue.

        Which makes Zof's recent attempts to try and out-blue blue all the more confusing.

        What dreams of chronic and sustained cruelty do you have to experience such that it makes you decide to transition from "frantic alt-right spokesperson" to "ignorant motherfucker"?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:10pm

          Re: Re: Re: You folks do know that...

          Fluoride in the water ruining our precious bodily fluids is my guess.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 4:43am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: You folks do know that...

            Or his parents are antivaxxers and he's contracted something he shouldn't have that melted his brain.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 5:05am

      Re: You folks do know that...

      Seriously, becoming the forbidden lovechild of "ignorant motherfucker" and "impotent fuckwit" is the hill you want to die on so badly?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2019 @ 9:49am

      Re:

      Right, and I'm Karl Bode. Not.

      Seriously, you'd think you would have learned from Richard's epic failure trying the same thing.

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

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 9:31pm

    Wow

    Zaf never sticks around like this. Has his account been hacked?

    Normally it's one cry for racial purity and he runs back to Sturmfront.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 12:00am

      Re: Wow

      Since John Smith's extended absence, even out_of_the_blue hasn't been keeping up. I can only suppose Zof feels some sort of obligation to keep the troll torch burning.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 4:44am

        Re: Re: Wow

        Keeping up with 3 trolling accounts and their different personalities and fetishes is taking its toll on him. He's down to managing just one of the three and doing a poor job of it.

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

  • identicon
    Jim, 12 Sep 2019 @ 6:05am

    Speech

    Interesting. In the us, speech is going underground. No more free speech. How sad, now I will have to hunt dissenting opinions. Lack of dissent means only the approved speech will be heard.thats called propaganda. In effect, lying to the people. That means conformity. Believe one way or else. Vote one way or else, fear all, or else. 1984 or else.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 7:26am

    So what happened with the whole BackPage saga?

    So as far as I know, this was a company that had prostitutes using the Ad platform. They created a filter to block such ads, and suddenly were complicit in promoting prostitution. Seems like the exact opposite of Section 230 and now apart of common law.

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


Add Your Comment

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

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



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.