What Is “Section 230” and How Can it Dictate the Future of the Internet?

"Section 230" is a part of the law that ensures the freedom of speech in online spaces and immunity for platforms that don’t have control over what users post in these online communities. However, 26 years after its implementation, the effectiveness of "Section 230" is about to be challenged by the US Supreme Court.

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Section 230

Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

As “Section 230” was established before social media’s development, it is natural to question its necessity. After many online incidents that resulted in users’ harm, it’s time for the Court to finalize its decision. The decision regarding “Section 230” will revolutionize and affect platforms through which half of our planet scrolls daily and the internet as we know it. 

But why is “Section 230” crucial, and how can the outcome of the Court’s decision affect our future?  

Stay tuned to find out! 

What Is “Section 230” and What Value Does It Have? 

“Section 230” is a part of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the US government’s first noble attempt to enable free speech on the internet and protect people from sensitive content.  

The CDA was passed by US Congress in 1996. That was two years before Google was founded and almost a decade before we were introduced to Facebook.  

“Section 230” ensures companies such as Facebook and YouTube don’t have to worry about what other people publish on their platforms. Or in other words, it states that big tech companies aren’t responsible for what third parties decide to post in their designated online spaces. 

online posting

Photo illustration: Freepik

So, if a user breaks the law and publishes sensitive content online, “Section 230” ensures they’re the only party responsible for the crime, not the platform that enabled them to have a voice in an online space/community. 

How Does “Section 230” Affect the Cyberlaw and the Users it Protects? 

“Section 230” was passed before our society could even grasp the concept of the internet and social media sites. With that in mind, “Section 230” wasn’t optimized to fit the idea of social media we understand today. Still, the 3-decade old law affects us to this day.  

For example, “Section 230” had a positive impact on marginalized groups and recent social movements, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. As “Section 230” stops concerns a platform may have regarding somewhat controversial content, people can deliberately share their opinions or experience with peers.  

content available on the internet

Photo illustration: Freepik

Additionally, marginalized groups can utilize platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread their voice and even educate others about personal socioeconomic status or issues they face in the community. Not only that but “Section 230” has made it possible for like-minded individuals to organize protests and social movements.  

If it weren’t for “Section 230”, social media providers would be able to remove content that doesn’t alight with their political/religious views. Additionally, social media providers would have more flexibility to discriminate against users who don’t share the same values.  

Who Does “Section 230” Protect and Why? 

After careful examination of the US legal system, it’s evident that big tech is the main “Section 230″’s beneficiary. However, the benefits of this law seem to apply to people from all walks of life, so let’s compare them.  

We have already established that “Section 230” protects providers and internet users from liability for any information posted online by a third party. We’ve defined internet providers as big tech corporations and users as individuals who regularly post both sensitive and non-sensitive content online. 

However, the implementations of this law are more detailed than we could have predicted. For example, as technology progresses and people have more options regarding online interaction with businesses or peers, “Section 230” now protects a broad range of communities and businesses. 

For example, bloggers allowing visitors to comment on their posts are protected against user lawsuits, and users in question have the right to share their opinion on the web, all thanks to “Section 230”. 

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"Section 230" also allows platform owners to remove content if it clashes with the law and filter out bad seeds from their small online universe. 

Without “Section 230” we wouldn’t have access to platforms dedicated to user reviews. That is because companies would be able to file lawsuits against users who left a bad review, preventing the online community from speaking its truth. 

Waiting on the Court’s Decision: Transformation or Chaos is Coming at Us Like a Freight Train 

The effectiveness of “Section 230” was brought into question long before recent events went viral. For example, many politicians and influencers sparked a conversation about this law during the Trump administration, when the president at the time concluded that “Section 230” allows platforms to censor Conservatives.  

Another interesting fact is that Democrats and Republicans agree that “Section 230” is flawed. However, while Democrats believe “Section 230” allows big tech companies to get away with too much, Republicans continue to preach that “Section 230” enables censorship of their content.  

However, it wasn’t until October 2022, when this matter was brought to Supreme Court, that this issue received more attention. “Section 230” is now headed to Supreme Court, and its final decision could either lead to transformation or chaos.  

The case involving “Section 230” revolves around Google’s alleged responsibility for extremist propaganda on its subsidiary YouTube – a widely popular video-sharing website.  

-The case was brought by the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who was killed in a 2015 Islamic State terrorist attack in Paris. The suit alleges that Google’s YouTube “aided and abetted” the extremist group, in part by allowing its algorithms to recommend video content from the group – Writes Rachel Lerman, a reporter in San Francisco, for the Washington Post

How Can “Section 230” Affect Social Media’s Future? 

The public is anxious to learn whether the Supreme Court will revoke or revise “Section 230”. Although the Court is yet to decide its faith, some speculate that rewriting or canceling the law could have lasting ramifications on social media, Engadget shows.  

If the Supreme Court decides the companies shouldn’t be exempt from taking responsibility for content generated on their platforms, they will have to either monitor and approve every post before publishing it or refuse to monitor anything.  

So, what does that mean for social media’s future and average Joe’s? 

For starters, the internet is a black hole full of content. Users can publish content whenever they want and interact with their posts as soon as they click the “Share” button. If Supreme Court revises “Section 230” and revokes the big tech’s immunity, imagine how long it would take for Facebook, for example, to ensure all posts align with new rules

Connection with peers

Photo illustration: Freepik

Even with additional tools and staff, large corporations couldn’t entirely monitor user activity. On the other hand, if companies say they won’t monitor content, bad seeds will proliferate, and sensitive content will reach the feeds of millions of people.  

Of course, both scenarios could be viewed as extreme, but depending on the Court’s decision, there’s a real possibility we’ll face these issues in the near future.  

On top of that, any change regarding “Section 230” could affect traffic on the web and interaction with content and other people as we know it. For example, if companies don’t have to filter content and users can post whatever they want online, some platforms will become breeding grounds for terrorists, anti-government, and hate groups. 

Furthermore, it’s safe to assume that users would try to avoid these platforms. Of course, this would provoke a chain reaction and urge advertisers to stop pouring their money into websites or other media that don’t have any value in users’ eyes. In other words, “Section 230” isn’t perfect, but it does provide a sense of balance and stability in online communities.  

No one can predict at the moment what will happen with “Section 230”. Still, one thing’s for sure– if the Supreme Court decides to revise “Section 230”, we’re about the experience drastic changes. 

26 Words that Created the Internet
“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” ("Section 230" of the Communications Decency Act of 1996).
These are the 26 words that created the internet.
This law has deemed companies as separate entities with immunity that exempts them from claiming responsibility regarding the user-generated content on their platforms.
As the law treats people who post on the internet as “information content providers” or legally responsible for the content they publish, service providers can avoid pocket-draining lawsuits from other platform users. These companies can also establish their individual policies for content moderation and act on them without compromising their legal immunity in case of a lawsuit.
However, the protection isn’t limitless. Companies are required to remove sensitive and illegal materials from their platforms and cases of copyright infringement.
Additionally, "Section 230" protects a wide range of big tech companies and hosting providers from taking responsibility for their users’ online behavior. However, its primary purpose is to ensure that internet users have the right to articulate their opinions or express themselves without fear of rejection.

Jelena is a content writer dedicated to learning about all things crypto. Her hobbies are playing chess, drawing, baking, and going on long walks. During winter, she usually spends her leisure time reading books.