With COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the protests taking place across the country, Americans are feeling the need more than ever to communicate with their friends and family. Given all these circumstances, social media has become the go-to method of communicating for many.
What many don’t know is that this ability to share our thoughts online is protected by a previously little-known section of federal law known as Section 230. Unfortunately, this law has recently become a political football, with potential changes to the law threatening the existence of the modern internet itself.
Section 230 is a simple concept that is spelled out in just 26 words. It reads “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.”
In plain English Section, 230 means that a website is not responsible for what you write on it.
Section 230 also allows for websites to moderate their content, including removing it, without being considered the speaker of the content they decide to leave up. If they were considered speakers for moderating content at all, there would be no incentive to moderate, causing a deluge of offensive content on all platforms.
Despite many claims to the contrary, there are also no requirements that websites be “neutral” in moderation of content in order to receive the necessary legal protection from Section 230.
This law has come under fire for supposedly protecting internet companies from liability when they “censor” conservative voices. There is certainly merit to the claims that those with conservative opinions are being treated unfairly by social media companies or other platforms. But tinkering or even removing Section 230 is far from the solution to this problem. In fact, doing so would lead to less conservative content online, not more.
On your social media feed, or on any other website with user generated content, you have no doubt seen opinions you disagree with. But, chances are you have also posted an opinion that someone else disagreed with. Your opinion may have even offended that person. Without Section 230, websites would have a huge incentive to remove all content that even comes close to the line of offending people, less they open themselves up to legal liability.
Section 230 provides the legal protection needed for websites to allow a wider variety of user-created content and opinions, especially conservative ones
Politicians, celebrities, and other famous people have multiple venues for speaking to the public and getting their message out. But the public at large does not have nearly the same opportunities. Section 230 has given a voice to the regular people of Louisiana and the nation in ways that would have been unimaginable when the law was first written.
In times like these, it’s important that everyone have a platform to make their voices heard. While the impulse to make sure social media platforms are acting fairly is understandable, removing Section 230 would lead to less speech by everyday people.
Section 230 created the internet as we know it today and gave citizens a voice. We need those voices now, more than ever.