The Legislation That Paved the Way for the Modern Internet

Section 230 protects online platforms from user-generated content

By: Amanda Scott, Nov 30, 2018

Imagine opening your Facebook or Twitter app and finding the content and posts highly censored for fear of lawsuits. Blogs and forums silencing unpopular opinions. What if YouTube didn’t exist? What if you had to pay for Instagram or other social networks in order to fund their lawyers who review the online content or fight lawsuits?

"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.”

47 U.S. Code § 230

Without Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the social networks and websites we are accustomed to, and frankly take for granted, would not exist in their current state. This fundamental piece of legislature protects U.S.-based “interactive computer services” from being legally liable for the content of their comment spaces, even if the website filters comments – enter news sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, forums, YouTube, etc.

The legislation states that websites, social media platforms and other digital services cannot be held liable for the consequences of third-party content as long as the site isn’t:

  • changing a commenter’s content to change its intent or inserting illegal content;

  • encouraging people to break the law with their comments; and/or

  • the commenter isn’t one of the site’s employees.

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”

47 U.S. Code § 230

“This legal and policy framework has allowed for YouTube and Vimeo users to upload their own videos, Amazon and Yelp to offer countless user reviews, Craigslist to host classified ads, and Facebook and Twitter to offer social networking to hundreds of millions of Internet users,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains of what is affectionately known as CDA 230. “In short, CDA 230 is perhaps the most influential law to protect the kind of innovation that has allowed the Internet to thrive since 1996.”