Photo by Pond5.
Christopher Zara, writing for Backchannel, offers an excellent discussion about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. He provides historical context and a balanced presentation of the challenges that have arisen from the differences between the law’s intent and its application.
“Given how often Section 230 is championed, cited, and showered with superlatives, you might not know there is a raging debate going on about how well the law actually works.”
Of course, the business broadly described as “the internet” was a very different animal in 1996, and as Zara describes considerable detail, we have yet to fully address some of the liability implications that may pertain to an Airbnb-type platform versus those that might pertain to a Facebook-type platform. “Digital rights” advocates, and of course the businesses themselves, vie to treat all platforms equally under Section 230—meaning that Airbnb would be no more responsible for a bad listing than Facebook is for you sharing defaming material. But is Airbnb truly a web platform hosting third-party content in the same sense as Facebook, or is it a hotel booking service that uses web technology, thus implying a different set of responsibilities never considered under Section 230?
In fact, if you read my last post, and the critical comment about it from Anonymous, he/she correctly points out that Section 230 was created in order to allow platforms to remove objectionable material without invoking a liability. Zara’s article provides insightful background on this from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), co-author of Section 230 with Chris Cox (R-CA) when both served in the House of Representatives. But Zara also observes that invoking 230 is indeed used as a defense by platform operators to take no action to remove potentially harmful material.
As cyberspace becomes increasingly integrated with the physical world—and as users come to grips with the supposed neutrality of information—we are probably going to hear a lot more about Section 230 in the relatively near future. Christopher Zara’s article is a great starting point for anyone hoping, as I am, to better understand the issues.
© 2017, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.