Tech companies are well aware of section 230, after all, it is the one piece of legislation underpinning the entire internet. As Facebook has come under scrutiny for its failure to protect user data, some politicians have been calling for widespread internet regulation. So what is section 230? In essence, it’s a section of US law that removes the responsibility for content away from internet platforms.
This means that platform providers cannot be sued for published content. Without section 230, companies like Facebook could be held liable for each publication on their platform. The importance of section 230 cannot be underestimated as it allows tech companies to operate freely and without fear.
Is section 230 at risk?
At the dawn of the internet in the 1990s, no one could have anticipated its far-reaching impact. Governments were eager to facilitate its growth and were happy to allow tech companies to operate freely. However, the internet has also been proven to provide many downsides. Recent data user scandals involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have once again highlighted the need for user protection. So, will legislators get rid of section 230 like many tech companies fear?
In the short-term, that is highly unlikely, although some exceptions to section 230 are due to be signed into law shortly. In March 2018, the Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 and this exception is now awaiting the president’s signature. Although this is only one restriction on section 230, many people fear that it may spell the end of an unregulated internet.
What’s more, if tech companies were to be considered as publishers, it would change the landscape of the space tech companies operate in completely. These companies would then have to operate like publishers and scrutinize each piece of content published on their platform. Any untrue of libellous content would then be open to lawsuits.
Tech companies and human rights activists fear that far-reaching internet regulation would curtail the freedom of speech. Governments and lawmakers would then control the information and its publication, thus potentially silencing dissenting voices.
As Mark Zuckerberg faces a grilling during congressional hearings, many people fear that user data protection is the least of his worries.