Sunsetting Section 230 Will Hurt Internet Users, Not Big Tech 

As Congress appears ready to gut one of the internet’s most important laws for protecting free speech, they are ignoring how that law protects and benefits millions of Americans’ ability to speak online every day.  

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on a bill that would end Section 230 (47 U.S.C. § 230) in 18 months. The authors of the bill argue that setting a deadline to either change or eliminate Section 230 will force the Big Tech online platforms to the bargaining table to create a new regime of intermediary liability. 

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Ending Section 230 Will Make Big Tech Monopolies Worse

As EFF has said for years, Section 230 is essential to protecting individuals’ ability to speak, organize, and create online. 

Congress knew exactly what Section 230 would do – that it would lay the groundwork for speech of all kinds across the internet, on websites both small and large. And that’s exactly what has happened.  

Section 230 isn’t in conflict with American values. It upholds them in the digital world. People are able to find and create their own communities, and moderate them as they see fit. People and companies are responsible for their own speech, but (with narrow exceptions) not the speech of others. 

The law is not a shield for Big Tech. Critically, the law benefits the millions of users who don’t have the resources to build and host their own blogs, email services, or social media sites, and instead rely on services to host that speech. Section 230 also benefits thousands of small online services that host speech. Those people are being shut out as the bill sponsors pursue a dangerously misguided policy.  

If Big Tech is at the table in any future discussion for what rules should govern internet speech, EFF has no confidence that the result will protect and benefit internet users, as Section 230 does currently. If Congress is serious about rewriting the internet’s speech rules, it needs to abandon this bill and spend time listening to the small services and everyday users who would be harmed should they repeal Section 230.  

Section 230 Protects Everyday Internet Users 

The bill introduced by House Energy & Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is based on a series of mistaken assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings about Section 230. Mike Masnick at TechDirt has already explained many of the flawed premises and factual errors that the co-sponsors have made. 

We won’t repeat the many errors that Masnick identifies. Instead, we want to focus on what we see as a glaring omission in the co-sponsor’s argument: how central Section 230 is to ensuring that every person can speak online.   

Let’s start with the text of Section 230. Importantly, the law protects both online services and users. It says that “no provider or user shall be treated as the publisher” of content created by another. That's in clear agreement with most American’s belief that people should be held responsible for their own speech—not that of other people.   

Section 230 protects individual bloggers, anyone who forwards an email, and social media users who have ever reshared or retweeted another person’s content online. Section 230 also protects individual moderators who might delete or otherwise curate others’ online content, along with anyone who provides web hosting services. 

As EFF has explained, online speech is frequently targeted with meritless lawsuits. Big Tech can afford to fight these lawsuits without Section 230. Everyday internet users, community forums, and small businesses cannot. Engine has estimated that without Section 230, many startups and small services would be inundated with costly litigation that could drive them offline. 

Deleting Section 230 Will Create A Field Day For The Internet’s Worst Users  

The co-sponsors say that too many websites and apps have “refused” to go after “predators, drug dealers, sex traffickers, extortioners and cyberbullies,” and imagine that removing Section 230 will somehow force these services to better moderate user-generated content on their sites.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. If lawmakers are legitimately motivated to help online services root out unlawful activity and terrible content appearing online, the last thing they should do is eliminate Section 230. The current law strongly incentivizes websites and apps, both large and small, to kick off their worst-behaving users, to remove offensive content, and in cases of illegal behavior, work with law enforcement to hold those users responsible. 

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Tell Congress: Ending Section 230 Will Hurt Users

If Congress deletes Section 230, the pre-digital legal rules around distributing content would kick in. That law strongly discourages services from moderating or even knowing about user-generated content. This is because the more a service moderates user content, the more likely it is to be held liable for that content. Under that legal regime, online services will have a huge incentive to just not moderate and not look for bad behavior. Taking the sponsors of the bill at their word, this would result in the exact opposite of their goal of protecting children and adults from harmful content online.  


Monday 20th May 2024 5:02 pm

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