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Protecting the Law that Protects the Internet

State Attorneys General are asking Congress to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which some have called the “Constitution of the Internet” for how it cleared the way for social media and user-generated content.

In simplest terms, Section 230 protects website operators from liability for content or commerce posted by users.

That liability protection unleashed the development of sites like Facebook, Reddit, WordPress and many others that enable user-generated content (UGC). The whole Web 2.0 revolution was premised on innovators being allowed to provide technical platforms without fear that they would be held legally responsible for all of the words and actions of anyone using their platforms.

In essence, a seemingly small change to Section 230 could spell the end of UGC sites as we know them.

But State AGs’ proposed change to Section 230 would make all UGC sites subject liable for any user post that violates a any state criminal law , including archaic laws against defamation —  any statement that “blackens the memory” of a person.

If Section 230 were amended to suit state AGs, Reddit could be guilty of defamation every time a user made a post that “blackened the memory” of a Georgia native (Ga. Code Ann. § 16-11-40). Facebook might be liable for defamation whenever a user shows “contempt” for a Louisiana resident (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:47).

Even worse, over 27,000 state sheriffs and prosecutors would have the authority to interpret and selectively enforce these legacy laws.

In essence, a seemingly small change to Section 230 could spell the end of UGC sites as we know them.

Thankfully, some lawmakers recognize the problems created by tampering with Section 230.  North Dakota’s state Rep. Blair Thoreson, who leads a multi-state task force on technology issues, saw the consequences of the state AGs’ request, and had the courage to disagree.

Rep. Thoreson’s resolution reflects what most Americans know to be true: the Internet’s contribution to free expression and e-commerce wouldn’t have happened if every single jurisdiction could impose its own local rules on a website operator located anywhere in the country, over content posted by people anywhere in the world.

A patchwork of different state laws is the last thing that Internet innovators need to contend with at this critical stage of the Internet’s continuing growth and evolution.

Our nation’s founders were worried about this very issue 225 years ago when they saw how the Colonies used tariffs and laws to favor their own businesses.  That’s why Article 1 of our Constitution prevents any state government from regulating commerce among the states.

A patchwork of different state laws is the last thing that Internet innovators need to contend with at this critical stage of the Internet’s continuing growth and evolution.

We urge state attorneys general to take a cue from Hippocrates and “first, do no harm.”

Read the resolution:

Download (PDF, 36KB)

 

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] * ALEC resolution on Section 230 and state criminal laws. NetChoice response. […]

  2. […] * ALEC resolution on Section 230 and state criminal laws. NetChoice response. […]

  3. […] These sites rely on the assurance that they will not be held legally responsible for comments, reviews, and criticisms posted by their users. Proposed changes to Section 230 would allow prosecution due to user-generated content (UGC) under an… […]

  4. […] Reddit, WordPress and many others that enable user-generated content,” NetChoice said in a blog post earlier this month. “The whole Web 2.0 revolution was premised on innovators being allowed to provide technical […]

  5. […] Reddit, WordPress and many others that enable user-generated content,” NetChoice said in a blog post earlier this month. “The whole Web 2.0 revolution was premised on innovators being allowed to provide technical […]

  6. […] Reddit, WordPress and many others that enable user-generated content,” NetChoice said in a blog post earlier this month. “The whole Web 2.0 revolution was premised on innovators being allowed to provide technical […]

  7. […] These sites rely on the assurance that they will not be held legally responsible for comments, reviews, and criticisms posted by their users. Proposed changes to Section 230 would allow prosecution due to user-generated content (UGC) under an… […]

  8. […] These sites rely on the assurance that they will not be held legally responsible for comments, reviews, and criticisms posted by their users. Proposed changes to Section 230 would allow prosecution due to user-generated content (UGC) under an… […]

  9. […] talked before about the importance of Section 230 and how it shields a website from content posted by a […]

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