Some Thoughts on Section 230

Published: 2022.01.04

I had a somewhat friendly debate over Signal the other day with a buddy of mine regarding Section 230. I did some deeper research because I was only familiar with the primary purpose of the Section 230. I was strictly arguing under the premise that web companies not be held responsible for what content is posted to their website by users. For example, on my website or blog, I should not be held responsible when you go to my site and say you're going to blow up a children's hospital or retirement home. Repealing Section 230 would make literally every (US-based) site on the internet liable for anything a user says or shares on their platform.

Here's what Section 230 states: 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.

My buddy was approaching it differently, focusing entirely on how websites (specifically Facebook) moderate users - his claim is that social media platforms are silencing conservative viewpoints (which I'm skeptical of, but will not outright dismiss). Regarding moderation, some people do indeed post fucked up things online including violence and gore, but also hate speech. Under Section 230, Facebook technically isn't legally liable for that, however they're a business who's almost entire income comes from advertisers (and therefore your personal data). They need their website as advertiser friendly as possible and I can say from first hand experience (because I've worked indirectly with Facebook while I worked in digital marketing) that most of the content moderation is done by algorithms. I don't know whether "conservative voices" are indeed being "silenced", or if it's a conspiracy theory inflated by a couple fluke instances, or if some content is removed done by a human living in San Fransisco - I haven't seen any data backing the claim personally, but that's irrelevant to the main point of Section 230, and it goes back to the fact it needs to be advertiser friendly.

Section 230 was co-written by a republican and a democrat 24 years ago with the core purpose to impose less regulation on new internet companies. Some even claim that this law created the internet that we know today. If they way content is being moderated by these social media companies bothers people, why not create an amendment? Completely repealing it is a nuclear option that would negatively effect how people and companies interact online and conduct business. For example, creating an amendment to Section 230 about how content gets moderated would be ideal if that's what you're caught up on, instead of having orange boomer cram that into unrelated bills such as the COVID-19 economic stimulus bill or the military budget.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send comments, questions, or recommendations to hey@chuck.is.