Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act protects Internet Service Providers like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Amazon, etc. from liability for their users’ postings.
In 1996, in response to a series of lawsuits filed against internet service providers accusing them of the content posted by their users or members through their portals, Congress passed Section 230 (47 U.S. Code § 230) as part of the Communication Decency Act (CDA).
Section 230 states “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, interactive computer service providers or internet service providers like Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Yelp are not deemed as the publisher or speaker of the content created by another person or entity through the provider’s service platform.
Furthermore, under Section 230, neither providers nor users of internet or information services are liable for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” That is interactive computer service providers such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon can act as the moderator of the content posted through their services as long as they act in good faith.
At the time of the enactment of this statute, Congress considered several public policy factors including the rapid growth of internet services, the widespread use of the internet for educational and informational purposes, the great degree of control offered to the users of such services, the need to political discourse and intellectual activities, and more, and consequently, enacted Section 230 in favor of the aforementioned policy reasons. However, it is notable that the legislature carved out special sections such as the laws relating to obscenity, sexual exploitation of children, and federal criminal laws.
Under Section 230, many of the giant internet service providers including Facebook, Amazon, Yelp, Craigslist, and Google can freely let their members/users post a wide variety of materials such as reviews, photos, videos, and more without the fear of being held liable for such content. Furthermore, they may act as the moderator of the services and as long as they act in good faith, their imposed restrictions on or controls over the posted materials are immune from potential lawsuits.
To date, Section 230 has protected many technology corporations in the field of internet services in several lawsuits initiated for various reasons including defamatory messages posted by the third party, removal of such messages by the service provider, creation of false profiles, obscene photos, negligence and gross negligence related actions, threatening messages, terrorism-related content, and more.
Finally, it is noteworthy that Section 230 was initially passed concurrently with the rapid global growth of the internet, and the enactment was influenced by many technology corporations at the time. With no doubt, at the time of the passage of this act, corporations such as Facebook or YouTube were not serving billions of users and they were not as influential as they are today. Today, Section 230 is subject to lots of disputes including accusations made by political parties alleging unfair treatment and censorship of their content on social media platforms. Consequently, the law is subject to new changes or modifications by Congress or new interpretation by courts. For example, in 2018, under the Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), Congress created a new exception to Section 230 that forced many internet service providers to revise their policies regarding the sex trafficking-related content posted on through their services.
Law firms such as Michael Ahmadshahi, Ph.D. Law Offices, particularly deal with such cases. If you need help regarding such a case, contact Michael Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Law Offices today and get an initial consultation – our primary office is in Irvine, CA but we also serve Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim, and Palo Alto. Michael M. Ahmadshahi concentrates its practice on patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and other intellectual property and business law. Call us toll free at (800) 747-6081 or direct at (949) 556-880 or fill out a contact form and let us help you with your IP and business matters.