Civics: Section 230 and a Tragedy of the Commons

Michael Cusumano:

At the center of debate regarding regulation of social media and the Internet is Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act of 1996. This law grants immunity to online platforms from civil liabilities based on third-party content.22 It has fueled the growth of digital businesses since the mid-1990s and remains invaluable to the operations of social media platforms.6 However, Section 230 also makes it difficult to hold these companies accountable for misinformation or disinformation they pass on as digital intermediaries. Contrary to some interpretations, Section 230 has never prevented platforms from restricting content they deemed harmful and in violation of their terms of service. For example, several months before suspending the accounts of former President Donald Trump, Twitter and Facebook started to tag some of his posts as untrue or unreliable and Google YouTube began to edit some of his videos. Nevertheless, online platforms have been reluctant to edit too much content, and most posts continue to spread without curation. The problem with false and dangerous content also seems not to have subsided with the presidential election: Social media is now the major source of anti-vaccine diatribes and other misleading health information.21