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The Case Against Section 230: 'The 1996 Law That Ruined the Internet

Published by Slashdot on Sat, 09 Jan 2021


Writing in the Atlantic, programmer/economics commentator Steve Randy Waldman explains "Why I changed my mind" about the Communication Decency Act's Section 230:In the United States, you are free to speak, but you are not free of responsibility for what you say. If your speech is defamatory, you can be sued. If you are a publisher, you can be sued for the speech you pass along. But online services such as Facebook and Twitter can pass along almost anything, with almost no legal accountability, thanks to a law known as Section 230. President Donald Trump has been pressuring Congress to repeal the law, which he blames for allowing Twitter to put warning labels on his tweets. But the real problem with Section 230, which I used to strongly support, is the kind of internet it has enabled. The law lets large sites benefit from network effects (I'm on Facebook because my friends are on Facebook) while shifting the costs of scale, like shoddy moderation and homogenized communities, to users and society at large. That's a bad deal. Congress should revise Section 230just not for the reasons the president and his supporters have identified. When the law was enacted in 1996, the possibility that monopolies could emerge on the internet seemed ludicrous. But the facts have changed, and now so must our minds... By creating the conditions under which we are all herded into the same virtual space, Section 230 helped turn the internet into a conformity machine. We regulate one another's speech through shame or abuse, but we have nowhere to go where our own expression might be more tolerable. And while Section 230 immunizes providers from legal liability, it turns those providers into agents of such concentrated influence that they are objects of constant political concern. When the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey are routinely (and justifiably!) browbeaten before Congress, it's hard to claim that Section 230 has insulated the public sphere from government interference... If made liable for posts flagged as defamatory or unlawful, mass-market platforms including Facebook and Twitter would likely switch to a policy of taking down those posts automatically.... Vigorous argument and provocative content would migrate to sites where people take responsibility for their own speech, or to forums whose operators devote attention and judgment to the conversations they host. The result would be a higher-quality, less consolidated, and ultimately freer public square.Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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