Section 230 is part of a set of policies passed in 1996 to protect the internet and encourage innovation within its developing framework. These 26 words of the Communications Decency Act paved the way for Facebook, Google and Twitter. Section 230 states that internet platforms–considered ‘interactive computer services’ in the law-cannot be considered publishers or speakers of content provided by their users. In plain English this means that just about anything a user posts on a platform’s website will not create legal liability for the platform. Thus, we have politicians wanting imagined behemoths, like Facebook and Twitter, when this law was written to do something about defamatory and false information on their sites. Most concerning of late has been misinformation about the 2020 election and the pandemic. But is content moderation really the answer? Or have these networks just gotten too big and that is the issue that must be addressed? It’s complicated stuff that has the right and the left railing against the sites and Section 230 for different reasons. Donald Trump, as president, threatened not to sign a defense authorization bill until Section 230 was repealed. His hope was to see no content moderating, which this portion of the bill allows, too, without legal pushback. The fact that he has been thrown off Twitter for good and Facebook for a period of time demonstrates he did not win the argument. Let’s walk through it all with Cameron Kerry of the Brookings Institution.
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