Dozens Of Human Rights Group Tell Congress: Do Not Gut Section 230 On Our Behalf; It'll Do More Harm Than Good

from the say-it-loud dept

As Congress (on both sides of the aisle) continues to explore new and dumber ways to wreck Section 230, often claiming that they need to do it to "protect" or "help" certain people or groups, over 70 civil rights, human rights, and social justice groups have sent a letter to Congress and the new administration, telling them that they are targeting the wrong thing, and that destroying the open internet will do a lot more harm than good.

Gutting Section 230 would make it more difficult for web platforms to combat the type of dangerous rhetoric that led to the attack on the Capitol. And certain carve outs to the law could threaten human rights and silence movements for social and racial justice that are needed now more than ever.

Section 230 is a foundational law for free expression and human rights when it comes to digital speech. It makes it possible for websites and online forums to host the opinions, photos, videos, memes, and creativity of ordinary people, rather than just content that is backed by corporations.

The danger posed by uncareful changes to Section 230 is not theoretical. The last major change to the law, the passage of SESTA/FOSTA in 2018, put lives in danger. The impacts of this law were immediate and destructive, limiting the accounts of sex workers and making it more difficult to find and help those who were being trafficked online. This was widely seen as a disaster that made vulnerable communities less safe and led to widespread removal of speech online. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna have sponsored legislation to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA. Lawmakers should pass this bill and examine past mistakes before modifying Section 230, and should hold hearings on the human rights and civil liberties implications of altering the law before legislating further. Overly broad changes to Section 230 could disproportionately harm and silence marginalized people, whose voices have been historically ignored by mainstream press outlets. For example, social media platforms would be unlikely to host viral videos of police violence that have spurred nationwide uprisings for racial justice if they faced constant litigation from law enforcement for doing so.

The effort was put together by the always wonderful Fight for the Future, and has some amazing signatories, including Wikimedia, Access Now, Common Cause, Data for Black Lives, Global Voices, Hollaback!, Lucy Parsons Labs, Media Justice, National Black Justice Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, PEN America, Public Knowledge, and many others that work on civil rights for various marginalized groups. Since the changes to 230 that are often proposed are put forth with misleading claims about how they're meant to "protect" these groups, it's great to see them speaking out and effectively saying "not in my name."

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: civil rights, human rights, section 230, social justice


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 10:59am

    social media platforms would be unlikely to host viral videos of police violence that have spurred nationwide uprisings for racial justice if they faced constant litigation from law enforcement for doing so.

    “That’s a feature of 230 reform, not a bug!” — every police union in the country

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 11:14am

    'You shut up when I'm talking for you!'

    I foresee a whole lot of instant amnesia in the capitol in the near future, as every single person arguing against 230 and using those groups as examples of who it 'harms' will magically forget the very existence of the letter in fine anti-230 tradition where facts aren't just optional they're to be avoided at all costs and it doesn't' matter what someone said just what you want them to have said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 11:58am

    that's it then! done job! it'll be kicked out within 3-6 months, primarily because of being informed that gutting it will do more harm than good and the stupid, thick fuckers who have been trying to get rid of it for who knows how long will take the comment as a very real reason to do the opposite! let's face it, with politicians, you cant put sense where there isn't room and nothing, absolutely nothing stops a politician from lining his/her own pockets in preference to looking after their voters!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 1:37pm

    "Not in my name", huh? Funny when the shoe's on the other foot....wonder if they'll be ignored like NotYourShield was way back when.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 3:00pm

    claiming that they need to do it to "protect" or "help" certain people or groups

    Whenever you hear something along the lines of "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help (or protect) you." or "It's for the children!" you can be sure that disaster is imminent.

    We must all do whatever we can to help in the fight to preserve Section 230, and to remove the misguided mess that is SESTA/FOSTA while we are at it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 5:32pm

      Whenever you hear something along the lines of "I'm from the Government and I'm here to help (or protect) you." … you can be sure that disaster is imminent.

      Wow. I didn’t think Reagan-era conservatives were still a thing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 2:09am

        Re:

        "Wow. I didn’t think Reagan-era conservatives were still a thing."

        Of course they are. They're called "liberals" and - not rarely - "democrats" now.

        Or, depending on the source you ask, "leftists" and "antifa".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 28 Jan 2021 @ 6:37am

      Re:

      ...you...get that section 230 was passed by Congress, right? The same governmental body that's currently threatening to repeal it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    rebrad (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 3:40pm

    Big Tech

    The only thing protected by Section 230 is Big Tech and its owners, the Mega Rich. If they don't side with your "group" you are canceled and after tomorrow, no one will know you existed. If Section 230 is not one of the foundations of Fascism, what is??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 4:17pm

      Re: Big Tech

      Answer me this: if a company is made responsible for user posts, why would they allow them?

      At a smaller scale, if you run blog, would you allow user comments if you could be sued for the contents?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 4:44pm

      Re: Big Tech

      The only thing protected by Section 230 is Big Tech and its owners, the Mega Rich.

      WRONG A.F.. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects every single website out there, and it protects the users as well. Just read the damn thing if you don't believe me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 5:21pm

      Just no

      That is not just wrong it is fracatally wrong. 230 protects everyone but it protects smaller platforms more than the big ones because unlike the likes of Google and Facebook smaller platforms aren't likely to have the resources to deal with the issues that would crop up without 230 to shield them.

      There is a reason Facebook is in favor of 230 'reform' and just a hint but it might be because they know something you don't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 5:25pm

      Re: Big Tech

      Zero facts in evidence for your religious belief there. Next.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 5:30pm

      People who run small forums for niche subjects are protected by Section 230. People who own and operate Mastodon instances are protected by Section 230. Every website and web service that allows third-party content, no matter how small the site/service or how benign the content, is protected by Section 230.

      So, too, are the users of all those sites/services. They can’t be held liable for third-party speech if, say, they boost it into their timelines or quote part of it.

      47 U.S.C. § 230 protects more people than you think. One of those people is you.

      Also: One of the foundations of fascism would probably look like the government forcing an interactive web service to host offensive, hateful, and otherwise objectionable speech out of some depraved sense of “neutrality”.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2021 @ 6:34pm

    Jhon Herrick Smith bitching about women needing protection because he thinks they're all whores in 3, 2, 1...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2021 @ 11:53am

    Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna have sponsored legislation to investigate the harm done by SESTA/FOSTA.

    This needs to be a Constitutional Amendment: all laws passed must include funding for an independent GAO to measure benefit and harm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.