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The Flashpoint Called Section 230

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January 4, 2021

There are both Republicans and Democrats who say they want to eviscerate it, but they have their eye on different provisions. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has two parts, explains Sue Halpern in a New Yorker article. “The first states that Internet companies are not to be treated as publishers, and, as such, are not responsible for the material on their sites that is created by third parties. The second says that those companies cannot be held liable for good-faith efforts to filter or block user-generated content. Liberals tend to take issue with the first part, finding it overly generous to the tech companies. Conservatives take issue with the second.” President-elect Biden says he wants it repealed, and so does President Trump. He tried to get its repeal written into the 2021 defense authorization bill. Failing that he issued a veto (subsequently overridden), writing in his veto message that Section 230 “facilitates the spread of foreign disinformation online.”

Meanwhile , according to a New York Times report , tech companies, particularly smaller companies who “fear that Facebook and other large companies could support a set of rules that only the biggest companies have the resources to follow,” have shifted their focus from trying to preserve the status quo to trying to influence possible changes. Section 230 does have defenders, among them the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has called it “the most important law protecting Internet speech.”

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