Congress has spent much of the past year grappling with a heartbreakingly difficult issue: victims who are prohibited by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from suing the websites where they were sex-trafficked.
Unfortunately, some of the debate has been sidetracked by a misunderstanding of how the statute works and a recent court case that interpreted it. Section 230 is one of the most important laws in the history of the Internet, and before we amend the statute to fix problems, we need to understand precisely what the problems are.
Twenty-six words within Section 230 shield websites from many types of claims arising from user content: “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.” For example, if a newspaper publishes a defamatory article, the subject can sue the newspaper publisher for defamation. But under Section 230, if a user posts a defamatory comment on Twitter, the subject cannot successfully sue Twitter for defamation (but can sue the tweeter).