Repealing section 230 would be detrimental to the Internet as we know it, experts agree:



July 14, 2021 – Legal experts speculate that companies may be reluctant to test Section 230 arguments in future court cases as recent court rulings against the defense could influence political action on amending the law provision. liability of intermediaries.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides online platforms with immunity from civil liability based on the content their users post on their websites. But recent rulings from various courts that have ruled against companies’ Section 230 defenses and held them accountable for incidents could have a lasting effect on how companies approach these cases.

“People are much more thoughtful when using a 230 tusk, and sometimes not using one at all, as they realize that it doesn’t bode well for their future cases.” Michèle Lee, deputy general counsel and general counsel for social media company Pinterest, said Tuesday at a conference hosted by the Federal Communications Bar Association.

“The number of companies operating in this space, frankly, is not that large. And I think people think a lot more in the long term than the cases that are before them. “

Legal experts at the conference argued that companies would be increasingly selective about which cases they choose to use for a Section 230 defense. The more attention it receives, they say , the more likely it is to receive political attention, which could revive the debate on its reform.

The debate over what to do with Section 230 gripped Capitol Hill for many months, with the culmination of discussions after the former president Donald trump was banned from multiple platforms earlier this year for comments he made about services allegedly fueling the riot on the Capitol on January 6.

Since then, several proposed amendments have been presented, including by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, which proposed keeping Section 230 protections largely the same, except for paid content.

And last month the senator Marco rubio, R-Florida, introduced his own bill, which “would end Big Tech’s censorship of Americans, defend free speech on the Internet, and level the playing field to remove unfair protections that prevented big business of Silicon Valley to be held to account ”.

Case law and politics: two vectors of change

The concern of companies providing platforms for information flow is that they could lose some liability protections due to legislation or a change in precedent. Historically, these protections have occupied a lot of mental space for members of Congress, the White House, and are often held up in court.

But that tide can change.

In May, the court ruled against popular messaging company Snapchat’s Section 230 defense, saying it could be held civilly liable for creating a dangerous product following the death of a user. 20-year-old Snapchat who crashed his car in 2020 while using an on-app filter that rewards driving fast.

Reaching 120 miles per hour at one point, the crash also killed two teenage passengers. Two of the victims’ parents sued Snapchat for wrongful death, claiming that the filter’s reward system encouraged reckless driving.

The case was dismissed by the court on the basis of section 230, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case, overturning the decision and favoring the victims, holding Snapchat responsible for creating a inherently dangerous product.

Carrie Goldberg, founder of CA Goldberg, a law firm specializing in victims’ rights, said on Tuesday that the ruling offered a “small window of accountability for online platforms,” ​​in which platforms could be held accountable for content posted when this content demonstrates harm to the public.

Goldberg referred to another case in Texas last month, where the state Supreme Court ruled that Facebook could be held liable after three plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits against the company, alleging they had become victims of sex trafficking, attracted to people you meet on Facebook. and Instagram.

Facebook claimed immunity through Section 230, but the court sided with the plaintiffs, saying the provision does not “create a lawless no man’s land on the Internet.” The court clarified that section 230 protects online platforms from the words or actions of others, but “[h]The old internet platforms responsible for their own misdeeds are quite another thing. “

However, this particular case may only apply to Texas jurisdiction and have little impact on the rest of the country, as part of the case was conducted using a Texas specific law. which authorizes civil actions “against those who intentionally or knowingly benefit from participation in a sex trafficking business.

In May, observers noted that a number of these court rulings reversing the course on Section 230 issues could lead to an avalanche of further lawsuits across the country.


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