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Section 230

Long title Protection For ‘Good Samaritan’ Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material
Nicknames Section 230
Enacted by the 104th United States Congress
Effective February 8, 1996
Codification
Acts amended Communications Act of 1934
Telecommunications Act of 1996
U.S.C.sections created 47 U.S.C. § 230
Legislative history

Introduced in the House by Christopher Cox, Ron Wyden

 

Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code, established as part of the United States Communications Decency Act, provides protection for website platforms with regard to third-party material in general and for third-party content in particular. 230(c)(1), at its heart, protects providers and users of “interactive computer services” from liability when they publish information supplied by third-party users:

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.

The Good Samaritan protection provided by Section 230(c)(2) extends to operators of interactive computer services that remove or moderate third-party content they consider obscene or objectionable, including constitutionally protected expression, without fear of civil punishment.

When two lawsuits against Internet service providers (ISPs) were brought in the early 1990s, the result was a divergent interpretation of whether the service providers should be treated as publishers or, alternatively, as distributors of content created by their users. Section 230 was enacted in response to this divergence of interpretation. In 1996, it was included in the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which is also known as Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It is codified as part of the Communications Act of 1934 at 47 U.S.C. 230, and is the most recent version of the law. Following the enactment of the Telecommunications Act, the CDA was challenged in court and found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997), but Section 230 was found to be severable from the rest of the law and so remained in effect. Since then, a number of court challenges have been successful in establishing the legality of Section 230.

Section 230 protections are not without limitations, and providers are required to delete content that is unlawful on a federal level, such as in instances of copyright infringement. Section 230 of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA-SESTA) was modified in 2018 to compel the removal of information that violates federal and state sex trafficking laws, which was previously prohibited. In the following years, Section 230 protections have come under increased scrutiny on issues such as hate speech and ideological biases in relation to the power that technology companies can wield over political discussions, and it has become a major issue during the 2020 United States presidential election. Section 230 protections were a major issue during the 2016 United States presidential election.