EFF Defends Section 230 in Congress

Watch EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry Defend the Essential Law Protecting Internet Speech

All of us have benefited from Section 230, a federal law that has promoted the creation of virtually every open platform or communication tool on the Internet. The law’s premise is simple. If you are not the original creator of speech found on the Internet, you are not held liable if it does harm. But this simple premise is under attack in Congress. If some lawmakers get their way, the Internet could become a more restrictive space very soon.

EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry will testify in support of Section 230 today in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing called “Fostering a Healthier Internet to Protect Consumers.” You can watch the hearing live on YouTube and follow along with our commentary @EFFLive.

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In McSherry’s written testimony, she lays out the case for why a strong Section 230 is essential to online community, innovation, and free expression.

Section 230 has ushered in a new era of community and connection on the Internet. People can find friends old and new over the Internet, learn, share ideas, organize, and speak out. Those connections can happen organically, often with no involvement on the part of the platforms where they take place. Consider that some of the most vital modern activist movements—#MeToo, #WomensMarch, #BlackLivesMatter—are universally identified by hashtags.

McSherry also cautions Congress to consider the unintended consequences of forcing online platforms to over-censor their users. When platforms take on overly restrictive and non-transparent moderation processes, marginalized people are often silenced disproportionately.

Without Section 230—or with a weakened Section 230—online platforms would have to exercise extreme caution in their moderation decisions in order to limit their own liability. A platform with a large number of users can’t remove all unlawful speech while keeping everything else intact. Therefore, undermining Section 230 effectively forces platforms to put their thumbs on the scale—that is, to remove far more speech than only what is actually unlawful, censoring innocent people and often important speech in the process.

Finally, Corynne urges Congress to consider the unintended consequences of last year’s Internet censorship bill FOSTA before it further undermines Section 230.

FOSTA teaches that Congress should carefully consider the unintended consequences of this type of legislation, recognizing that any law that puts the onus on online platforms to discern and remove illegal posts will result in over-censorship. Most importantly, it should listen to the voices most likely to be taken offline.

Read McSherry’s full testimony.

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Author: Elliot Harmon

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