Section 230 is a part of the Communications Decency Act, or CDA, It is a way to protect our right to browse and speak openly, directly by deflecting legal responsibility from the website owner. It states that “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.”
The CDA emerged as a component of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This Act was passed to make the internet kid-friendly, with large banks of pornography making up vast civilian internet forums. Section 230 of the act was a protection to companies, allowing them to govern their sites from these standards, with members of the appropriate age allowed within,
Twenty years have passed since then, and within this period of time, the internet has grown into something so encompassing that these litigations put in place are protecting the worst, most gruesome of the internet, along with some of the best interfaces for user free-speech.
Emma Llanso, advocate for the Center for Democracy and Technology sums up its importance, “Section 230 is as important as the First Amendment to protecting free speech online, certainly here in the U.S.”
Companies receive a partial immunity from legal troubles and there have been further boundaries pushed to even protect internet servers more. This does not align with the actual CDA guidelines, which has evolved to defend companies, even those with purposeful illegal content.
Discrimination and Section 230
Websites that base purchase, or renting eligibility, collect vital information that ables discrimination. Selden vs Airbnb is an example of this discrimination at travelling sites that request demographical information. The Plaintiff, Selden, accused the company to be at fault for an occurrence with a property owner on their platform. After Selden, who is African American, was refused service, he made two profiles with caucasian profile pictures.
Next, the report claims, “Selden used the two imitation profiles to request accommodations for the exact same dates and from the exact same Airbnb Host agent that rejected him. Subsequently, and on the same day in March 2015, the same Airbnb Host agent that originally rejected Selden immediately accepted both of the white imitation Airbnb accounts.”
While it is debatable is Airbnb should be held accountable for their user’s tendencies (even if racist,) there are real troubles when thinking of them not limiting racial profiling and discrimination within their service.
If these businesses are protected under Section 230, there is no concrete way this discrimination will have real consequences to these platforms that enable outgrouping or even have restrictions placed on their further use of the content.
Civil rights violations occur in many ways. Section 230 does affect demographic linked apps to abuse the user’s information for discrimination. However, without this servicer protection, it directly makes platforms accountable for the content being shared in it. Down the line, this will result in the companies no longer surviving court battles with Section 230 as their scapegoat, so they will limit user interfacing and strict content bans.
Section 230 and Social Media’s Freedom of Speech
Discussing platforms dependent on user interfacing and their right to do so opinionatedly, Facebook’s longevity has a direct tie to Section 230. Facebook, like Airbnb, uses the real identities and habits of their users for suggested advertising. Any business account can target customers from particular demographics for their services, or deny them for their own private reasons.
With the freedom of speech being scene throughout the platform, this amounts to questionable user opinions with a few dangerous individuals mixed in. Facebook has had trials over their responsibility for anti-United States Groups or hosting terrorists. Their cyber-bullying problems are seen as unfixable, yet still, Facebook does not account for these issues.
If Section 230 does not continue as the leverage of social media outlets, there would be severe restrictions put in place, that many users would have problems adhering to. The media outlets could still be hosted on protected servers, where anyone with a VPN free trial could access it.
The Bottom Line
Of course, our freedom of speech is important, but there are two sides to this debate, both with viable points. To eliminate Section 230 could lead to a limited internet, where the government is in full control of what is, or is not, allowed on the web. Complete websites would be unavailable on US servers, and Facebook’s limitations would result in fewer users or an overall shut-down.
With Section 230 the way it is, it certainly needs to be reformatted to actually promote safety online, and have standards for these website companies to actually adhere. While some of the responsibilities of their users are not their fault, the company should act as promoters of safe web-use.