There was a time when the debate around Section 230 was limited to the underworld of D.C. tech policy folks, but this is certainly no longer the case. While this once obscure part of the Communications Decency Act was gradually becoming more of a discussion point, it was thrust into the mainstream when Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump from their platforms after he posted incendiary tweets.
Who is liable for content?
While it would seem like deplatforming the President of the United States would be the crowning achievement of, as Trump puts it, government’s gift to big tech, the piece of legislation that enabled this move was not Section 230, but in fact the First Amendment. In fact, the only role that Section 230 played in all of this was to enable Trump’s inflammatory tweets for so long, since Twitter (or any other platform) is not liable for the content that Trump created.
When Section 230 became law in 1996, it codified the understanding that many judges had shared through the years: bad actors should be held accountable, not platforms. This is just common sense legislation; it merely says that content creators would be responsible for their content, which is part of America’s long-standing tradition of defending free speech.
Defending Section 230 against both the left and the right
Opposition to Section 230 is not a conservative monopoly. In fact, the left wants it gone just as much, and repealing it would only achieve what they are seeking: more online content moderation.
Consider this; if Twitter becomes liable for what a user posts, it will have a far greater incentive to only allow squeaky clean and uncontroversial content. Yet while platforms like Twitter and Facebook, with their deep pockets, would survive in a world where they need to deploy deep moderation strategies, newcomers would not. As such, new platforms would be put at a significant disadvantage and would lack the resources to grow.
Repealing Section 230 would not only wreak havoc in the social media sector. Indeed, it would have a severe impact on every online content distributor. For example, if Section 230 were repealed, Wikipedia would suddenly become liable for what is written in each of its articles and Yelp for every user-created review.
This is why we must defend Section 230. It enables competition, not just between companies but also between ideas. It is a vehicle for enabling online discourse with a multitude of voices. Repealing this legislation would not forbid internet companies from banning users, the First Amendment is what enables that, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in America arguing for its repeal.
To learn more about Section 230, be sure to check out our video below:
This article was originally published in January 2021 on the Students For Liberty website.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.