How Online Communities Can Disappear if Section 230 Gets Repealed

How would the internet change if Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is repealed? For U.S.-based online communities and the professionals that work for them, not for the better. In fact David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that some websites and communities would disappear altogether. They simply wouldn’t be able to exist with the risk that republishing content could bring.

If you want to talk to your colleagues, your community, or your elected officials about how Section 230 protects everyone who uses and works on the internet, consider this episode your primer. Patrick and David also discuss misconceptions about Section 230 and why it’s important for all community professionals to pay attention to attempts to repeal this law.

Here’s what’s covered:

  • The basics of Section 230, including who it protects and how
  • How FOSTA intended to regulate sex trafficking and ultimately regulated so much more
  • What elected officials are saying and hearing about Section 230

Big Quotes

A summary of the protections that Section 230 provides: “Section 230 provides an immunity from liability for any internet … user or service provider for republishing somebody else’s content. Whereas, in another situation, you might have borne some legal liability because you republished something somebody else said or wrote, when you do that online, you cannot be liable for that. … [For example,] if you forward an email and the email you forward has awful stuff in it, you can’t be liable because the content you forwarded harmed somebody in some way. The original person who wrote the email can, but you just merely as the intermediary who forwarded the email cannot.” –@davidgreene

How Section 230 protects us all, not just “Big Tech”: “Section 230 protects any person or any entity that publishes other people’s content online. That is pretty much every person and entity that I know. There’s nothing in its language that limits it to Big Tech. I actually hear this a lot from my friends in the legacy news media community who feel like Big Tech got this statutory advantage that they don’t have. I always tell them, ‘Look, you publish online. You publish news online. Some of you are exclusively online news, and you enjoy the same protection when you are an intermediary, when you publish wire service stories, when you publish reader comments, when you publish advertisements. All these things are not your own content. You get the exact same protection that anybody, that Big Tech does, regardless of what that means.'” –@davidgreene

What community managers can do to protect Section 230: “Pay attention to efforts to limit Section 230. I think it’s actually really helpful even now just to contact your elected officials and to explain to them why it’s important to you. … They are constantly hearing from people who are blaming the whole litany of woes on Section 230 and who are talking about the bad anecdotes because Section 230 undoubtedly does protect bad actors. Any immunity is going to do that. It’s going to protect the good actors and the bad actors. Members of Congress tend to hear a lot of the bad actors’ stories. That’s what causes them to want to legislate.” –@davidgreene

About David Greene

David Greene is the senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He has significant experience litigating First Amendment issues in state and federal trial and appellate courts and is one of the country’s leading advocates for and commentators on freedom of expression in the arts.

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