Will Challenges to Section 230 Law Change the Internet?

March 2021
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Change is likely coming to Section 230, the 25-year-old law that protects online platforms from being held liable for things users say on them.

Three Democratic U.S. senators recently introduced a bill called the SAFE TECH Act, which would make social media companies more accountable for “enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment and discrimination on their platforms,” Senators Mark Warner, Mazie Hirono and Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. 

The bill would amend Section 230 with new definitions of speakers and new exceptions from the law’s liability shield. Warner, who introduced the bill, said it “doesn’t interfere with free speech,” but would make Facebook, Twitter and other sites “accountable for harmful, often criminal behavior enabled by their platforms, to which they have turned a blind eye for too long.”

Critics warn the SAFE TECH bill could be used against social media platforms and their users. As written, it “would devastate every part of the open internet, and cause massive collateral damage to online speech,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told TechCrunch. 

Creating liability for third-party content would cause web hosts, cloud-storage providers and even paid-email services to purge their networks of any controversial speech, Wyden said.

In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting most forms of speech, but private companies can create rules to restrict speech. David Greene, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital-rights group, told CBS News that under the proposed amendments to Section 230 companies such as YouTube and Facebook would have to pre-screen all content and micromanage users, with “devastating implications for privacy.”

As The Wall Street Journal noted, “There is broad agreement among experts and politicians that Section 230 won’t be eliminated, but that’s where accord ends.”

Return to Current Issue A New Era for Networking | March 2021
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[sean gladwell]

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