The Law that Gave Us the Modern Internet, and the Campaign to Kill It

Ever heard of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act? It gave birth to the social web. Here's why we need more laws just like it.

In 1996, Congress cleared the way for the modern Internet with a single short statute. Technically, it was known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But you can think of it as the law that gave us websites like Reddit, Craigslist, Digg, and perhaps all of social media.

Section 230 states, essentially, that websites cannot be sued or prosecuted for content posted by their visitors.* It was passed, in part, to undo the effects of a New York court ruling that held they could be. So for instance, if a Facebook user writes something libelous on their wall, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have to worry about anybody hauling his company into court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Section 230 “the most important law protecting Internet speech.”

But section 230 has also been economically powerful, perhaps in ways Congress couldn’t have foreseen. It was simple and intuitive to understand for entrepreneurs and didn’t require a lawyer to implement. As a result, it has functioned as a permission slip for the whole Internet that says: “Go innovate.” Entrepreneurs have responded by founding the user-generated content sites we know and love today.

If Capitol Hill is interested in supporting the next great generation of entrepreneurs, it would be wise to look at laws like section 230 as a model for the future. We need more permission slips for innovators, and fewer vague and legally treacherous regulations that stop them in their tracks.

Read more at The Atlantic

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