Opinion: People who understand Section 230 actually love it

Section 230, which says that websites aren’t liable for
third-party content, has developed an increasingly bad reputation.
In December, President Trump vetoed a critical $740 billion
military funding bill because Congress didn’t include a repeal of
Section 230. Other Washington, D.C., insiders have criticized
Section 230 as facilitating online “censorship” or a “gift”
to Big Tech. Not surprisingly, after the withering criticism our
elected politicians have directed towards Section 230, many
Americans have become skeptical of the law.

Unfortunately, Section 230’s plummeting reputation reflects
widespread and significant misunderstandings about what the law
says. Section 230 simply says that bad actors online are
accountable for their wrongdoing, but others don’t share that
responsibility.

For most people, Section 230’s allocation of responsibility
makes intuitive sense. Indeed, a�survey conducted earlier this year
by the Knight Foundation and Gallup confirmed this common-sense
principle.

The pollsters first asked survey respondents if they supported
Section 230. A small majority said no. Then, the pollsters asked
which approach survey respondents thought was best:

• “Change [Section 230] and allow people to sue internet
companies for content posted on their websites by an individual
that causes them harm,†or

•  â€œKeep the law so that people cannot sue internet
companies, but only the individual who posted the content on the
website that causes them harm.â€

An overwhelming majority (66% to 31%) favored keeping the law
rather than changing it. In other words, even if people oppose
Section 230 by name, most people actually agree with Section
230’s consequences.

The Knight/Gallup survey result exposes a troubling schism
between Washington, D.C., politicians and their constituents.
Despite their constituents’ broad support for Section 230’s
principles, numerous politicians are working hard to repeal Section
230. They view Section 230 as just another bargaining chit for
their political negotiations.

However, it would be terrible if they actually “won†these
negotiations. Section 230 is the heart of the modern Internet.
Virtually every Internet service you love depends on Section 230
— including both critical services (such as Wikipedia’s online
encyclopedia and consumer review services) and sources of daily joy
(such as viral TikTok videos). Whether we realize it or not, we
benefit from Section 230-protected services dozens of time each
day.

Section 230 also has played a critical role in our response to
the COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 shut down school campuses,
students kept learning through online videoconferencing services
such as Zoom; and when COVID-19 shut down our retail stores in
physical space, online marketplaces provided a much-needed virtual
alternative. Videoconferencing services, online marketplaces, and
many other pandemic-coping services are available only because of
Section 230’s legal protection. Without Section 230, our country
could not have quickly and effectively implemented shutdowns, and
that would have exacerbated the public health crisis.

The stakes associated with Section 230 reform are enormous. This
is a question that Congress absolutely must get right. That’s why
it’s mind-boggling when Washington, D.C., politicians treat
Section 230 like a political football to be tossed around casually.
When politicians say that they support repealing Section 230, what
they are really saying is that they want to destroy the Internet
services that you most depend upon and love the most.

Thus, don’t assume your Congress members are committed to
protecting your Internet. There’s strong evidence they don’t
realize just how passionately their constituents care about the
Internet and how upset their constituents will be if they damage
Section 230’s principles. So, tell them.

 Eric Goldman is a professor of law at Santa Clara University
School of Law.

Source: FS – All – Interesting – News 2
Opinion: People who understand Section 230 actually love
it