QUESTION: What is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?
ANSWER: Section 230 "is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation" on the internet, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a U.S.-based global nonprofit digital rights group.
The original purpose of the 1996 Communications Decency Act was to restrict free speech on the internet, the EFF said. The Supreme Court, however, struck down anti-free speech provisions after objections from the internet community, including the EFF.
Section 230 says, in part, that "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."
Q: What is an interactive computer service?
A: An interactive computer service is partially described in the CDA as "any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the internet."
This means internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are subject to CDA regulations.
A variety of interactive computer service providers that generally include any online service that publishes third-party content are also required to comply with CDA regulations. Examples are Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo.
Q: Does the CDA provide protections for online intermediaries? If so, what are they?
A: Section 230 protects them from civil liability. It says, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of 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; or any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph."
In summary, Section 230 protects online intermediaries against multiple laws that could otherwise hold them legally accountable for the content and actions of others. Regular ISPs are protected, as are essentially any online services that publish third-party content.
While the measure protects them from some of their users' content, it does not completely do so, as they must still comply with certain intellectual property and criminal laws.
Q: Do other countries offer legal protections to interactive computer services, as Section 230 of the CDA does in the U.S.?
A: Many other countries do not have similar laws, according to the EFF. While Canada, European countries and Japan provide high levels of internet access, most major online services are U.S.-based.
"This is in part because CDA 230 makes the U.S. a safe haven for websites that want to provide a platform for controversial or political speech and a legal environment favorable to free expression," the EFF says.