back to article Section 230 supporters turn on it, its critics rely on it. Up is down, black is white in the crazy world of US law

Up is down and down is up when it comes to one of the most important, and now controversial, US legal protections for internet companies. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives internet platforms blanket legal protections concerning the content posted by others on, or through, their services. Until recently it was …

  1. swm Silver badge

    I believe in "freedom of speech". But this presumes intelligent listeners which we don't have. So now what do we do? Maybe a warning (like on cigarettes) stating that opinions expressed on this site are those of the writer and not that of the service provider.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

      Free speech gives you rights, it's true. But that doesn't mean you can yell "Fire" in a movie theater when there is no fire. I don't think a warning like you suggest will work as it will be buried the clutter of most websites and ignored by users.

      In this case, Section 230 probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe it still is. Who decides what can be published and what can't be? Where is the line drawn?

      Maybe a modification is needed such that things be treated on a case by case basis but then... everyone will find something to complain about. Part of the problem is, quite honestly, I believe lawyers. The neverending "you can get compensation for......" ads. Followed by lawsuits for the most trivial of things.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

        The section is simply far too broad. There are cases where the protection is not only the most logical option, but helps prevent lots of problems. And then there are others where it allows clear abuse with a get out of consequences free card. Some examples:

        Without this section, every provider is responsible for anything and everything on their platforms. This makes sense for a blog with a few readers, but it doesn't make so much sense for, say, a cloud services provider. Without protections like this, someone could find illegal content on a site and charge the provider of compute or network for that site with a crime despite the fact that the provider didn't know anything about the site. Initially, this doesn't sound like a problem; we make it illegal for people to provide services to criminals and the companies have to check their customers for criminal activity. The problem with this is that checking a customer for criminal activity is pretty hard to do without also completely ruining that customer's right to privacy. For instance, I have a virtual server online that could theoretically be used to commit crimes (it isn't). In order to verify that I'm not committing crimes, my server provider would probably have to scan every file on my machine and analyze all network traffic coming through. And even if they do that, they could be charged if it turns out their automatic system doesn't detect whatever crime I have managed to come up with. A good faith effort is not sufficient.

        However, this is also frequently used to allow any type of content, no matter how obviously illegal, to be sent. The article already has some good examples of this, which I'm sure we agree should be stopped. Under the current law, our only method to try to stop it is to argue about the definition of "publisher", leaving lots of advantages for companies with many lawyers. That's not very useful. As obvious as it is to people that running ads means the advertiser is publishing at least that content, it hasn't yet been accepted in court because the law isn't clear enough.

        I think we're likely to see lots of people clustered around the "protect it at all costs" and "scrap it entirely" ends of this spectrum. As usual when that happens, we really need to be somewhere in the middle.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

          1995 was a quite different Internet era. It was difficult to envision what would have come next. But the law was uselessly too broad as you point out.

          It was clear an email provider couldn't be liable for the contents of emails - just like a telephone carrier is not liable for the contents of the calls. It could be extended to leasing hardware or software with no direct involvement and revenues but from the leasing itself, and without any rights on the contents.

          But when "platforms" which allows to *publish* and reach millions of readers/viewers become available - and using a business model built on monetizing those very contents directly - the original assumption went out of the window.

          Probably, the best way to modify Section 230 is to separate the former system from the latter.

          If you're a "platform" that directly monetize contents published (made publicly available) i.e. through usage rights, user tracking and profiling, direct control of which ads are shown, etc. etc. you are directly liable for the contents - just like any other publisher, because your whole business is built on such contents. People uploading them in some ways "work for you" (especially if you pay them.... as, for example, YouTube does).

          Otherwise if you just offer basic services, don't monetize someone else's contents directly in any way(paying for the platform usage should be allowed, of course) or contents are personal and not publicly available (i.e. email), don't control what ads are shown and from where, don't track and profiles users to sell their usage, nor you pay in any way the user, then you should not be liable (unless you break some other law - i.e. knowingly allowing illegal activities, or trying to hinder competition)

          I know this will kill Facebook and Youtube - but they are exactly the problem.

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: I know this will kill Facebook and Youtube - but they are exactly the problem.

            You say that like it's a bad thing.

            Facebook will implode overnight if it has to regulate its content, moreso if it feels compelled to charge its users to cover those costs, which will be massive to effectively regulate the amount of content involved.

          2. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

            > Probably, the best way to modify Section 230 is to separate the former system from the latter.

            I'm afraid it's not as easy as that. Think about it from the "what's the problem" point of view, after all email and phone carriers are accused of not doing enough against spam (or cold callers) too. Does this mean they should be liable for the content of the emails/calls they transport? Well, obviously nobody would like somebody else listening in on his calls/emails, but nobody likes finding heaps of spam in his Inbox either.

            My point is, it's not a "platform" as much as an "abuse" issue. You can abuse any type of platform, obviously some easier than others, and some are made to be abused, but the task at hand is to prevent abuse, or at least make it very complicated and/or too expensive. The solutions to that are different and platform-dependent, what works for a call or email platform won't work for Facebook for instance. But one thing is clear, there is no convenient one-size-fits-all solution.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              "phone carriers are accused of not doing enough against spam (or cold callers) too"

              A mail server provider may not be responsible for spam unless it actively supports it and helps the spammers to avoid detection and blocking, once notified of the illegal activities.

              There could be little difference between a legitimate bulk e-mail, and spam, without looking at the contents, sure.

              The same is true for cold calling. If cold calls are regulated, and a telco knowingly helps spammers to break the law, they could and should become liable too.

            2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

              "The solutions to that are different and platform-dependent, what works for a call or email platform won't work for Facebook for instance."

              It depends what you mean by "won't work". If it means Facebook wouldn't work any longer I don't see that as a problem.

          3. vtcodger Silver badge

            Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

            I know this will kill Facebook ...

            It'll be tough, but I think I could somehow get by.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

              >I know this will kill Facebook ...

              It will be great for Facebook - it's the classic "bootleggers and baptists" economics. The reason big banks like more financial regulations.

              A new law requires you to have a legal compliance process if you accept customer posts.

              This expands to you having to have a compliance officer in each state, who is certified by that state.

              For Facebook to have a few hundred extra staff to do this = pocket change

              What about el'reg, reddit, your local school/sports club web forum?

              The only organisation able to afford this will be Facebook, your only legal choice will be to have them host your group

              1. LDS Silver badge

                "The reason big banks like more financial regulations."

                No, they don't. Look at the attempts to kill the agency to protect customers created after the crisis of 2008.

                Facebook knows its business model is not sustainable if it has to check contents, or otherwise be liable for them.

                1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                  Re: "The reason big banks like more financial regulations."

                  >No, they don't. Look at the attempts to kill the agency to protect customers created after the crisis of 2008.

                  Look at all the mergers and takeovers of smaller regional banks since those laws were introduced

                  Don't take my word for it, ask the fed Bank Consolidation and Merger Activity Following the Crisis

                  Remember Facebook doesn't have to check the content of each post, it just has to prove that it followed the rules in Law3.1.4.159.2654 and it's competitors didn't

                  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                    This week's straw man prize

                    "Remember Facebook doesn't have to check the content of each post, it just has to prove that it followed the rules in Law3.1.4.159.2654 and it's competitors didn't"

                    You decide what form the regulation will take and then explain how it won't work as intended.

          4. Terje

            Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

            I think you are aiming a bit high in this instance. Let me use Youtube as my example here.

            If you give Google/Youtube full responsibility for everything published on Youtube, it will be shut down before the ink would have time to dry as you correctly stated. This will also lead to an angry mob trying to lynch you probably including me as I no longer really watch ordinary television, but I do watch a large amount of Youtube videos as the channels I watch cater to my specific interests which no other media really do. While I would not cry for Google there are no alternatives as anything remotely like it would suffer the same fate. The exact same thing would happen to every social network (I use none so I don't care, but I think that horde would be even bigger and probably even have some torches and pitchforks in it!

            The fact is that every single platform for non instant communication would be gone.

            The reasonable thing to do is to require the platforms to make a resonable effort to police the content provided on it and force them to act on obviously illegal content brought to their attention. If they sling ads that would not be ok in another media then it should not be allowed for them.

            1. msknight

              Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

              YouTube is already taking action on this.

              It has forced creators to specify whether their content is suitable for children or not. That is a mandatory setting which creators have to set... (either channel-wide or per-video) but I didn't see a clear time line for this.

              On the face of it, this is now shifting responsibility to the creators for classification, rather than relying on automated systems, or small armies of people in different countries (and thereby different social standards) to rate videos.

              Whether such an action will save YouTube from being sued if a creator makes an incorrect classification on their video... is open for debate... but it does shift the goalposts away from YouTube a little.

              Whether Faceache can achieve the same, however, is another matter.

            2. LDS Silver badge

              "This will also lead to an angry mob trying to lynch you"

              So they become above the law because groups of addicted can turn violent if they don't have their daily dose?

              You're describing an utterly broken society.

              1. trindflo

                Re: "This will also lead to an angry mob trying to lynch you"

                The US has history here: Prohibition

              2. Terje

                Re: "This will also lead to an angry mob trying to lynch you"

                No they should not be above the law, the law should CHANGE to be appropriate as the current system is broken one way or the other, you just have to be careful not to make the reworked laws either to weak so they mean nothing to draconian so they remove everything or to wide/ narrow. Is this easy to do? Absolutely not. We also have to think about the fact that this is US law that have some inherently broken (from my point of view) views on what is suitable for children and basically rather skewed morality. A movie with quite graphic violence is fine for children but if there's so much as a hint of a nipple you can't show it to anyone under 18. It's ok to have guns lying around the house (I know this is not the way it's supposed to be in most places but this is all a hyperbole) but seeing your mother naked is sure to make you scared for life...

              3. holmegm Bronze badge

                Re: "This will also lead to an angry mob trying to lynch you"

                I suspect it was metaphorical. He's describing a democratic society. If large numbers of people are upset about something, the government tends to listen to them. That's a good thing (usually).

      2. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

        "In this case, Section 230 probably seemed like a good idea at the time."

        This is why it feels a bit harsh to accuse Biden of hypocrisy. Sure, he voted for Section 230 in 1995, but no-one back then predicted how the internet would look 25 years later. Changing your mind on things when the situation changes or new facts come to light is exactly what everyone, not just politicians, should do. For that matter, even knowing he voted for it doesn't tell us all that much; it's entirely possible he could have thought it was flawed or overly broad even back then, but was better than not having anything at all.

        Companies supporting a law when it's in their favour and arguing against it when it goes against them is certainly something worth calling out. A politician who thinks a law they previously supported needs changing decades after it was implemented when the thing it governs has changed almost beyond recognition? That deserves applause for being one of the rare times a politician actually seems to be doing their job correctly.

        1. Benson's Cycle

          Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

          Exactly. I have no time for Biden, but accusing him of hypocrisy for saying that a law passed 24 years ago is now past its best before due to abuse by corporations is ridiculous.

          Changing your mind when circumstances change is a sign of realism, not weakness.

        2. holmegm Bronze badge

          Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

          "Changing your mind on things when the situation changes or new facts come to light is exactly what everyone, not just politicians, should do."

          Well, except when it isn't. There's a fine line between being properly adaptable, and on the other hand just getting swept along with mass hysteria.

          A principle is literally something you don't change just because the fashions around you changed.

          If it's criminal to say something, then it's the person saying it who's the criminal, not the owner of the phone lines. Or of the glorified blog whose whole shtick is that pretty much anybody can sign up and post stuff.

        3. Stork Silver badge

          Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

          "When facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do?"

          - Keynes, from memory

      3. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

        Part of the problem is, quite honestly, I believe lawyers.

        From a British perspective, I don't honestly think that's true. Quite honestly, I think that your problem is your courts, not the lawyers.

        People have tried to throw USA style spurious cases in the UK before. They get advised not to, and then do it anyway. The courts then give the people who bought the case a really good kicking by ruling that no case exists to answer, and forcing the people bringing the case to pay their lawyers costs, the courts sitting costs, their opponents lawyers costs, compensation for wasting the time of their opponents and labeling the case "vexatious", which if done repeatedly means that you can get barred from using the legal system in the UK without permission.

        The result is very few frivolous civil cases. And there are even fewer people trying to use the criminal justice system against their competitors; I think that's been tried once. The result was even more nasty; they had more of a library thrown at them than a book.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

          "labeling the case "vexatious", which if done repeatedly means that you can get barred from using the legal system in the UK without permission."

          AFAIK it's not the case that's declared vexatious, it's a litigant who brings too many of those sorts of case and then, as you say, a vexatious litigant has to go succeed at some extra steps to be allowed to bring another case.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: The law of Unintended Consequences applies....

            The judge tends to say that he considers the case vexatious in his ruling, and a number of these leads to action.

    2. James Anderson Silver badge

      Freedom of speech does not extend to false statements which libel and slander other people. You can sue a newspaper for printing lies about you. The same laws should apply to Facebook.

      1. Dinanziame
        Stop

        You can sue a newspaper for printing lies about you

        Not if they are just reporting what a politician said, no you can't. (Insert joke about newspapers all going out of business)

        I never heard of a newspaper getting sued over the content of an ad either.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          You can't obviously sue a newspaper if it is reporting what someone else has said, and they have evidences he/she said it. Actually, it's also a journalist job to report what some people say.

          Ads published on newspapers and TV in many countries are controlled by specific agencies - i.e. ASA in the UK. There are rules about what kind of ads, if any, could be displayed in given hours or type of contents (i.e. children ones) - and misleading ads are not allowed.

          Tracking the origin of the ad is quite easy, and if the ad infringes the rules someone is liable.

          1. AndrueC Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            ..although the ASA has limited legal force behind it. It's basically a club where everyone agrees to follow its rulings. It can refer the matter to other agencies which do have legal weight but most ASA rulings are just wrist slaps. In some ways it's surprising how well it works.

            1. Benson's Cycle

              It isn't really, because a race to the bottom is not actually in the interests of advertising agencies.

              What they really, really want is highly remunerated high quality ads that they can win awards for. And clients who understand that what they want is not lots of eyeballs, but eyeballs that might want to buy what they are selling.

          2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Can you sue a newspaper for printing a readers letter that you believe contains a lie?

            Can you sue them for only printing letters that support their point of view

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "You can't obviously sue a newspaper if it is reporting what someone else has said, and they have evidences he/she said it."

            They need to be able to attribute the quote and if they do it becomes possible to sue the originator. The big difference between print media and the web is the speed with which the lie can br propagated by re-posting. That's something new. If anything it should put a greater responsibility on the likes of Facebook and, frankly, if they should only be operating at the scale at which they can contrive to meet it.

        2. batfink Silver badge

          Newspapers do pick and choose what ads they will run.

      2. SundogUK Bronze badge

        You can only sue the paper if the lie is theirs. You cannot sue them if they carry an advert which contains a lie. This is the point of section 230.

        The real issue is that Facebook (and Twitter etc.) claim section 230 immunity but are clearly capable of policing viewpoints they don't like.

        1. Imhotep

          And in the US you cannot sue a newspaper for a lie, unless you can prove malice. Since malice is almost impossible to prove, they effectively have carte blanche to publish whatever they want.

          This dates from the 1960s, and should probably also be revisited.

      3. Any other name

        You can sue a newspaper for printing lies about you.

        May be. And they again, may be not: it depends on who "you" are (ie a public figure or a private person), on whether the "lie" could possibly be believable by a reasonable person, or is obviously a hyperbole, on how it is presented - as a fact or as an opinion, on how it is interpreted by a potential reader, and most importantly it depends a lot on where that newspaper was published.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          It also depends on whether or not the paper actually lied -- in other words, if they knew it was untrue and published it anyway, as opposed to simply being wrong.

      4. aks Bronze badge

        Facebook isn't saying it. One of the contributors is.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          You mean that in a newspaper it's not the newspaper saying it, but only the "contributor" (journalist) writing it? Sure, sometimes it happens (i.e. op-eds) and the reader is usually explicitly warned. AFAIK, the newspaper is still responsible for what it publish.

          Both the newspaper and Facebook (& C.) are not neutral entities - both businesses are built on monetizing directly the "contributors" contents (including matching them with ads) - plus both control which are given priority and visibility and which not - using their "algorithms" (it doesn't matter if it is a director of an AI trained as you like).

          On the other side a printing press company doesn't monetize contents but is just paid to allow their display, and makes money only from the number and quality of the display, not the value of the contents - and still I believe can be liable if it prints illegal material knowingly.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            "AFAIK, the newspaper is still responsible for what it publish."

            In the UK - I don't know about anywhere else - the printer, i.e. the executive in day-to-day charge of actually putting ink on paper has personal responsibility or so I was told by someone who'd actually held that position.

          2. holmegm Bronze badge

            "You mean that in a newspaper it's not the newspaper saying it, but only the "contributor" (journalist) writing it? Sure, sometimes it happens (i.e. op-eds) and the reader is usually explicitly warned. AFAIK, the newspaper is still responsible for what it publish."

            The journalist is employed by the newspaper, one way or another.

            If a "newspaper" existed whose whole shtick was that pretty much anybody could put a piece in it, blog style, I doubt the newspaper itself could be held responsible.

    3. bazza Silver badge

      I think section 230‘A creators assumed we’d also have intelligent contributors, so that there’d not be a problem with junk content in the first place. Oops.

      Also back then the freetard ad funded online world we’re now living in hadn’t been invented. Back then if you wanted a service you’d have to pay for it. For example, Compuserve; it costed money to use.

      That naturally meant there was a solid link between uploaded content and the poster of that content, via the financial industry’s knowledge of who owns which credit card. Legal Consequences could easily be directed towards the appropriate person.

      Can’t do that today with ad funded services. It’s a tough job to convert an IP address into a viable prosecution.

      Getting rid of section 230 is the end of free services funded solely by ads. Personally speaking I can’t wait. I’d be very happy to use Google services devoid of ads, tracking, analytics, etc.

      And it’s likely cheaper; a direct billing for services rendered is a more efficient way of raising revenue than flogging ads to fund the services, if you have a large user base. Same profit for less infrastructure and staff? Not a bad outcome for the business.

      1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
        Headmaster

        Not actually true. Web-based discussion fora were emerging (I put up my first in 1995 run by a set of Perl scripts), and Geocities had become the first big-name freebie host.

        Usenet was of course much longer-established, and the experience of usenet trolling[1] presumably informed the debate that led to Section 230.

        [1] As misunderstood by the media to give us today's use of the word.

    4. LucreLout Silver badge

      But this presumes intelligent listeners which we don't have.

      As does one man one vote.

      Perhaps we could return the internet / web to its early days where it had a much higher average IQ [1] and simply regulate access to the top half of the IQ spectrum? The question then becomes, if we're exposing only those better equipped to understand an argument to the internet, why would we not do the same with voting.

      Unfortunately dogma and propaganda will always be with us. Unless we're willing to reorder society around intelligence, with all the social upheaval and disenfranchisement that entails, then there's really nothing we can do about it. Farcebook is just the latest platform, but it can trace its roots straight back to Pravda. Society is designed ground up for those in the average to one standard deviation below average bracket, which is why we have so much health and safety law, dumbing down of education, attainment, and entertainment (I give you Joey Essex). While that may make for an infuriating experience for those with a high intelligence, they're outliers in "society", which is really just the mob.

      1 - Back in the early days of the web it was mostly academics, scientists, and those pursuing a higher education back when degrees didn't come in cereal boxes. You'd have been looking at a typical IQ of around 1 standard deviation above average (115). The gradually changed with AOL, and once broadband became a thing and everyone started using it, the average IQ dropped to that of the populace at large (100).

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        > Unfortunately dogma and propaganda will always be with us. Unless we're willing to reorder society around intelligence

        I'm afraid you're confusing intelligence and reason. There are lots of highly intelligent but utterly dogmatic people out there. If only the stupid were dogmatic there would be no problem, nobody would listen to them...

        It is true that the initial Internet was "cleaner", but that was because of the demographics. The early Internet was an extension of your work space with a specific, task-oriented population, while now it's just a huge multidimensional bazaar.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          I'm afraid you're confusing intelligence and reason

          I can see why you'd think that, but no.

          With only a below average intelligence, a person would not be equipped with the faculty to reason about complex issues - which is why you get political strongholds that are utter shitholes but have voted the same political party for 100 years, as an example.

          If only the stupid were dogmatic there would be no problem, nobody would listen to them...

          Neatly dovetailing into the politics example I gave above. Their vote is the same as your vote and has to be listened to equally. Which should transparently obviously be a problem, if we're worried about electoral interference. If its a genuine problem, swapping Pravda for Facebook won't solve it - only restricting voting and reshaping society to value intelligence would accomplish the task, but that would condemn half the populace to limited life choices and disenfranchisement forever.

          This is one of those times where there are no easy options that change anything. The only easy option is to change nothing and live with the interference. Everything else quickly becomes a hard choice if anything is to be accomplished.

      2. Dal90

        A captcha based on knowledge of civics (or other relevant topics) may not be a bad thing.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          You would think that knowing Belgium isn't a city and Paris isn't in Germany would be a prerequisite for being in charge of NATO's nuclear arsenal ....

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Making a knowledge of civics a requirement for aspirants to office wouldn't be a bad idea either.

  2. Oengus Silver badge

    Politics

    allowing politicians to lie without recourse

    I thought that this was standard for politicians especially during election campaigns. I can't count the number of political promises that have been made during election campaigns that have been conveniently forgotten about once they are elected. The difference between "fake news" and political promises or smear campaigns seems only to be the source of the story.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      There's no law that I know of

      against making promises you don't intend to keep. But many jurisdictions have laws against lying in a political campaigns. In principle it's no different from the laws that prevent companies lying about their products.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: There's no law that I know of

        How do you prove the truth of any forward looking statement?

        "Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain's Potential"

        "Leading the Fight for Climate Action, a People's Vote, a Fair Society for All"

        "It's Time for Real Change"

        "Stop Brexit. Build a Brighter Future"

        "Change Politics for Good"

        "Time To Get On With Brexit!"

        "It's Time to Choose Our Own Future

        Perhaps the only one which is possibly true, Plaid Cymru's "Wales, It's Us"

  3. LDS Silver badge

    I fully understand people can change ideas and positions.

    Just I expect they explain why, and not pretend they never changed anything.

  4. RichardB

    Seems easy to stop them republishing politicians lies. Just ban politicians from the platform.

    But where do you stop then? Your mate Bob from school posting Meme's that have political slants?

    Gill from work who posts something a little bit edgy about a new law?

    Announcement from the government that inflation is 2.4%?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Well by disabling the "share" or "like" feature, etc, and making people actually write what they want to say?

      Yes that would reduce what you see on a FB feed by 90% but would that be so bad?

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Seems easy to stop them republishing politicians lies. Just ban politicians from the platform.

    The question would then be how many nanoseconds it would take for one to play the freedom of speech card.

    1. aks Bronze badge

      It reminds me of the old joke.

      How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips move.

    2. Joe W Silver badge

      ... but if the only remediating thing about a statement is that it is not entirely illegal it makes a pretty poor case. Plus your freedom stops where mine begins, meaning that one person's freedom should ideally not curtail another ones - there is a compromise between those (this is called civilised society...).

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Better late than never

    And learning that lesson, we now have Biden and Benioff arguing for the complete opposite: a scrapping of Section 230 altogether. We are ruled by idiots.

    But it'd be worse if they just carried on defending S230 regardless.

  7. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Happy

    Immediately President Biden is Inaugurated..

    He must install an Imperial Censor to filter online complaints and delete at once any that in his/her opinion are telling blatant lies or indulging in corrupt behaviours.

    If paid adequately he will be beyond temptation. $50,000 a month seems sufficient.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Immediately President Biden is Inaugurated..

      "He must install an Imperial Censor"

      We could call it the Ministry of Truth. I understand Winston Smith is looking for a job. Biden had better hope that this doesn't get implemented before his inauguration by the current administration. Or we may never hear from him again.

  8. aks Bronze badge

    It's all about the money

    They're having difficulties suing the actual originator of the objectionable content so they're going after the common carriers.

    It's different for news outlets who actually write the articles. They have some responsibilities to review what's being printed (or posted online). Advertisements are a halfway house. The news outlets are able to filter for some things such images or specific words but don't have the capability to review the claims made in each ad. That applies to to products, including that of politicians if the claim is made within an ad. If it's made within an article, the journalist and the news outlet must be careful to quote the source and if they feel safer to add a caveat.

    Once money becomes involved, scope creep comes in. Why not sue the postal service for delivering junk mail rather than go after the actual originator? The current pressure on Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is purely because they are seen as easier targets with deep pockets than going after individuals.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: It's all about the money

      Well, at which point do they stop being a carrier and begin to be a publisher, which can be held lilable? No, there are no simple and easy answers to that.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: It's all about the money

      Not sure I get your point, your second paragraph makes a case for Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc... having some responsibility for what they publish then your third says that they should be exempt from this.

      How about this example - a newspaper isn't obliged to publish all letters it receives from readers and could well get into trouble itself if it does. What's the difference between those and these west coast companies currently on a mission to demolish society apart from scale and a reluctance to police their publishing platforms?

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: It's all about the money

      "They're having difficulties suing the actual originator of the objectionable content so they're going after the common carriers."

      In that case there needs to be a clear distinction between a common carrier and a publisher.

      A common carrier would be someone who provides a service which is charged for. Material delivered to the carrier is delivered to its destination for a fee. There is no means to look at the content. That would include and ISP who simply takes packets from the subscribers and routes them on for transmission to their destination and takes packets from the net addresses to their subscribers and delivers them. It also applies to mail service providers who accept mail and pass it on. It also applies to hosting; in fact with the ISP it's usually the customer who starts by sending some packets out and eventually the ISP gets to deliver the replies and with hosting the packets arrive from the net first and it's the customer's system that send out the replies. All the above is done blind - the carrier only looks at the routing and only in so far as it's necessary to route the message.

      As soon as the business starts to look at content or display the content publicly they become a publisher and have responsibility for the content. Arguably this would also apply to free MSPs such a gmail if they look at the content and base other services on that or, indeed on anyone who monetises routing information.

      It means that there can be a clean-cut distinction. You provide a point-to-point service blind, either for a fee, as a charity or even as some sort of loss-leader and you're a common carrier. If you look at content - or even routing information to monetise it in some other way - you assume a degree of responsibility.

    4. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: It's all about the money

      Facebook aren't a common carrier, they curate what you see and what you don't see, and allow 3rd parties to pay them in order to make you see additional things - once you curate things, you're a publisher.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: It's all about the money

        What FB is doing is basically returning the results of a search of a collection of stripped-down blogging sites. I have 300 friends, which means close to a million friends of friends.

        I am NOT going to keep up with all of the posts & comments in that set. Curation is required for the site to have any value at all.

        Yes, they are biasing that search. But you and I almost certainly have strongly divergent ideas about what the appropriate vector for that bias is. And I am sophisticated enough to appreciate that the bias that is appropriate for my feed is NOT appropriate for everyone.

        The curation by itself cannot be enough to invalidate 203a-type protections. Heck, G's original curation of the internet is one of the best defenses of the legislation.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: It's all about the money

          "The curation by itself cannot be enough to invalidate 203a-type protections"

          Why not? If the platform creates a problem then they should take responsibility for what''s on it. Limit the size of the platform to what they can curate properly. They can't make huge amounts of money from it if that's the case? Tough, there's no law that says they should be able to make that money and have society deal with the costs.

    5. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: It's all about the money

      "Advertisements are a halfway house."

      In most jurisdictions, advertising has rules. Yes, they can be misleading, but they can't be outright false.

      As an example, Red Bull settled a false advertising claim as the product didn't give anyone wings, and the claims of improvements in concentration are not backed up by evidence.

      Since Facebook/Google et al are the ones selling the ad space, then they are liable for not making outright false claims.

  9. Cronus

    I don't see what's hypocritical about changing your mind some twenty-four years after making a decision when the entire context has changed and new evidence has come to light. He made a decision that made sense in 1995, he's since come to realise it no longer makes sense. Politicians that are capable of re-evaluating their position on things when presented with new findings is exactly what society needs. You shouldn't penalise them for not steadfastly holding to every opinion they've held or decision they've made.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solution is easy.

    Start posting false stories that affect Facebooks share price on Twitter and vice versa.

    Then get out of the way before you get trampled in the rush as these behomoths suddenly discover that it's not a good idea to allow lies to propagate unchecked.

    Who's up for it ?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I highly doubt facebook is "sucking in kids". Kids don't use facebook, that's strictly for boomers.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Only true in as far as Facebook has other brands for kids.

  12. Rol Silver badge

    The buck stops where it cannot be passed along any further.

    Every word. Every video. Every picture. They must all be the responsibility of someone or something when spewed across the internet.

    If I hire a car and then use it to rob a bank, then the hire firm is not liable. But if the hire firm failed to carry out rudimentary checks, making it impossible for the police to trace me, then the hire firm is complicit to the crime.

    If Facebook is effectively allowing anonymous posts, that cannot be traced back to an individual or organisation, then it should be Facebook up in the dock.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The buck stops where it cannot be passed along any further.

      Which was the reason for the original law.

      In the USA you can sue anyone however tenuous the relationship - the lawyers follow the money.

      With no case law in the early days of the internet there would be lots of lawsuits going after IBM and Microsoft whenever anyone fell for an email scam.

      The classic example was a parent who accidentally backed out of their driveway over their own child

      With no insurance and medical bills to pay they sued - the makers of the kid's jeans for not being visible

      1. Dal90

        Re: The buck stops where it cannot be passed along any further.

        >With no insurance and medical bills to pay they sued - the makers of the kid's jeans for not being visible

        Who are you kidding?

        This is America -- their insurance company sued the makers of the kid's jeans. Subrogation baby!

        (And sarcasm aside, many if not most of the "you've got to be kidding me" lawsuits you hear about in the name of John Doe v. ______ are not filed by John Doe, but by his auto|health|homeowners insurance company which holds the subrogation rights to sue on his behalf and compel his co-operation in said lawsuit.)

  13. Snapshot

    A bit of a contradiction

    "It believes that Section 230 is sacrosanct and should be messed about with."

    How to make a sentence completely meaningless by leaving out one short word. I am rather surprised by how often I see 'not' omitted these days, completely reversing the writer's (or writers') intended meaning.

  14. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    User content vs targeted content

    I think the salient point here is that if a web site acts only as a neutral conduit for user content, between users, then it's fair to say that they are acting as a "common carrier" and aren't responsible for that content.

    On the other hand, if they start "promoting" some content over other content, using opaque alogorithms that the user has no control over, and inserting advertising based on that content, then they should be seen as a publisher, and are responsible for the lawfulness of that content.

    I think FB have gone quite a long way over the line from one (where they used to be) to the other (where they clearly are now). The relevant lines are where they started "curating" content, and where they started targeting advertising based on a profile built up from your "likes" and "views" and yor demographic data. There's no way they should be able to claim anything other than responsibility for those adverts, especially if they are political adverts with no fact-checking, during an election.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: User content vs targeted content

      The relevant lines are where they started "curating" content,

      How about where they start monetising it? And not just content - if Google takes not of where you're located or who you email and sells that they're over the line.

  15. sbt Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Ruled by idiots, reported on by ...

    Holy cow? I think you mean sacred cow

    Also, I assume the EFF's position is ... that Section 230 is sacrosanct and shouldn't be messed about with.

    Anyway, the law is a blunt instrument, so I can't see why the EFF can't take a more nuanced approach to this one. They're usually on the rightcorrect side of the argument in my experience.

  16. 2Nick3

    This seems too easy

    How about having no political ads, period. Candidates can publish material about their platform and where they stand on issues, but I get to go research it, not have it shoved in my face. There would be a need for conglomeration of the info, but any site doing that is not allowed to express opinions. So you would have "Candidate ABC is for the requirement of wearing codpieces in public while Candidate DEF is against this requirement" and not "Candidate ABC is completely bonkers for wanting to force everyone to wear a codpiece whenever they are in public, while Candidate DEF has a grasp on reality and thinks this is absurd and is clearly the only choice any reasonable person can make."

    It's not easy, but you can usually find a pretty simple list of where candidates stand on certain issues.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: This seems too easy

      The USA already does this to get around funding laws.

      The think tank supporting a wall with Mexico, trade war with China and tax cuts for billionaires can run ads all day long - it doesn't mention any particular candidate and so isn't a political ad

  17. mevets

    Defending the deplorables....

    That EFF will end up defending such a deplorable organisation isn't without precedent. Long ago, Dennis Miller griped about having to go to the wall to defend Two Live Crew on freedom of speech. Couldn't we get to defend Hendrix or something. The sad thing is that defending something you like is no test of your mettle; defending something you abhor is.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Defending the deplorables....

      "The sad thing is that defending something you like is no test of your mettle; defending something you abhor is."

      No, defending somebody's right to say something you abhor is a test of your mettle. Defending something you abhor just makes you a whore.

  18. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Coat

    We are

    ruled by idiots

    You only JUST noticed......

    <<grabbing coat and running for it

  19. martinusher Silver badge

    Unintended Consequences

    Back in the 90s I would have supported Section 230 because its consistent with the notion of free speech. Like setting up email protocols that rely on the fundamental honesty of the sender of a communication I'd have just assumed that everyone's fundamentally honest and wants to do the right thing.

    Bitter experience has shown this not to be the case. I'm not sure I'd want to just dump the protections -- if nothing else it will loose a swarm of lawyers looking for prey (and by the Law of Unintended Consequences they'll immediately swarm on the wrong (easy) targets) but "something needs to be done". For now I just do the obvious -- I try to ignore Facebook and I certainly don't believe any of the 'news' or push poll BS that comes at me when I'm reading websites.

  20. Bill Gray

    After 24 years, changing one's mind?

    "But of course it wouldn’t be a politician interview if there wasn’t an enormous dose of hypocrisy and irony and in this case it’s the fact that Biden voted for Section 230 in 1995. It passed the Senate 81-18."

    In 1995, I'd have leaned in favor of it as well. In 2019, with a very different situation and considerably more knowledge of the consequences, I'd at least lean against it.

    Someone famous (don't remember who) said, when accused of "hypocrisy" for changing his mind, something vaguely resembling the following :

    "When the facts change (or my understanding/knowledge of the facts changes), I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

  21. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    No fact checking?

    For political speech? This has been going on since people were nailing up handbills in the town square. Learn to live with it. Develop some critical thinking skills.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: No fact checking?

      That would be fine if only people with critical thinking skills were allowed to vote.

  22. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Freedom of speech

    is the freedom to lie. Particularly in politics.

    We had a rather bitter experience with censors a couple of centuries ago. That's why the US has such strong protections with regards to freedom of speech.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CBP employees get sued?

    Ain't gonna happen.

    As a former fed, I can assure you that a federal employee acting in an official capacity will never face a personal suit. The reason is that the fed steps in as the defendant in place of the employee. That's part 1.

    Part 2: in the United States, the federal government has sovereign immunity and may not be sued unless it has waived its immunity or consented to be sued. This doesn't happen because it exposes the government to liability.

    Now, the employee who screwed up will definitely have a bad day for causing problems, but will probably not be fired.

    The only ways for a fed to be fired are to commit time card fraud, steal equipment, or perform sexual harassment. Practically speaking a fed would need to be caught with a live boy or dead girl to be removed on the spot.

    Security violations may get you there, but with the precedent set by Hillary and her staff, who the heck knows...

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: CBP employees get sued?

      If the US doesn't have the concept of misfeasance in public office it needs to get it PDQ.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: CBP employees get sued?

      "The only ways for a fed to be fired are to commit time card fraud, steal equipment, or perform sexual harassment. "

      When it comes to sexual harassment, it only takes an accusation and a vague one at that. Asking somebody out a second time at work whether they are a direct report or just a coworker is sexual harassment according to some people. A hug or a squeeze of an arm is aggravated assault.

  24. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Fact checking a political ad?

    Null program. Political ads are made from 100% artificial ingredients and completely devoid of "facts" by their very nature.

    It's a steep slope if any platform is made to "fact check" advertising and user submitted material unless that platform is a co-author or is supporting the statements made. If they had to verify every ad, they'd also need a products testing lab to ensure that the detergent that claims it gets whites, whiter than ever before, it does. They also have to verify that the new chicken sandwich from brand A is 20% more tastier than brand B. Will magazines and newspapers (those remaining) have to do the same thing? TV networks?

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