Congress enacted Section 230 to foster the growth of the internet by providing certain immunities for internetbased technology companies. Section 230 contains two key immunity provisions. The first specifies that a provider of an interactive computer service shall not "be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," effectively exempting internet social media and networking services from liability under laws that apply to publishers, authors, and speakers. The second provides "good Samaritan" protection for providers who, in good faith, remove or moderate content that is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.
While Section 230 has played an important role in development of the internet as a platform for the global exchange of information and ideas, the internet has evolved in unanticipated ways since 1996. Today, a small number of large companies operate social media platforms that millions use for information and public discourse. Concentration of power, disinformation (including sophisticated disinformation campaigns), abuse on social media (hate speech, harassment, bullying, and discriminatory practices), use of algorithms to amplify and target content and advertising, and lack of transparency in content moderation have become issues of increasing concern. There are many opinions regarding potential solutions, including about whether (or by what means) Section 230 should be revised.
On April 22 and 27, 2021, the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a virtual workshop titled Section 230 Protections: Can Legal Revisions or Novel Technologies Limit Online Misinformation and Abuse? Participants and presenters explored the legal, policy, and technological aspects of Section 230 and its relationship with such critical issues as free speech, privacy, and civil rights. The workshop also addressed concerns about internet immunity protections while preserving free speech and democratic norms. This publication summarizes the presentation and discussion of the workshop.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Section 230 Protections: Can Legal Revisions or Novel Technologies Limit Online Misinformation and Abuse?: Proceedings of a Workshop–in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26280.
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