Of everything I’ve written–and I’ve covered some pretty heavy, controversial topics–I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as much blowback as when I advocated the amendment or repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
For most people Section 230, sometimes called the Good Samaritan Clause, is an obscure piece of legislation, but for those of us who live much of our personal or professional lives online it’s one of the most significant laws on the books. Nearly every problem we have with finding solutions to online abuse can be traced back to this law or to the spirit that lies behind it.
Section 230 of the CDA is, essentially, a declaration of neutrality for platforms. It states that if a company does not actively participate in the creation of content–if all it does is provide a venue for someone to express themselves–then the company is not liable for that content. It doesn’t matter how actionable that content is–how clearly a given utterance constitutes libel, or harassment, or incitement to violence. You can sue the person who said it, if you can track them down, but the service provider–Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube–bears no responsibility and has no duty to compensate the victims or to take anything down.