Confused by How Section 230 Protects the Bad Guy? Read This.
Have you ever returned to your car in a parking lot to find a flyer with pictures of children for sale? The reason the answer is no isn’t because there is no market for human trafficking, it’s because soliciting to sell people is a federal crime. Why then, is this same solicitation protected online?
I have long been confused by the controversy surrounding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 because protections granted to providers and users of “interactive computer services” expressly reneges immunity in cases involving federal crime and intellectual property. Why then, is this statute blamed for enabling human trafficking?
With talk of another vote coming up, I invested thirty minutes towards enlightenment that I proffer to you in plain language so you can sop it up quickly:
The issue is that state laws are inconsistent and the language in Section 230 has been interpreted as more open than it was intended to be, which resulted in inconsistent court rulings that set precedents providing a loophole for the bad guys. Internet Service Providers are receiving complete immunity for hosting black market businesses, and—even more alarming—sites that make money propagating horrific federal crimes like human trafficking have also been protected, as long as the content is “user generated.”
Think about that: you can have a website that sells people as long as you aren’t the one posting people for sale.
Section 230 has not been used for evil alone. For example, in 2001 it protected a public library from being sued when a minor figured out how to download child porn at the computer lab. As much as we don’t want our children to access porn, lawsuits such as this would be a fast way to disenfranchise states from offering public access to the internet, which would be detrimental to lower income families who use those resources for research, job placement, etc.
This is a case where the law needs a common sense clarification. Section 230 does not need to be overturned; it needs to be amended. Eyebrow raised at any politician or tech company that disagrees when the consequence of doing nothing is the buying and selling of people.
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