Overview

Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 refers to a section of internet legislation in the U.S. that was passed into law as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The law is most well-known for providing immunity to website publishers from third-party, user-generated content and was developed in response to lawsuits against internet service providers in the early 1990s. Though its protections aren’t limitless, Section 230 is widely viewed as a key law and protection that’s allowed the internet to thrive. Since it was passed in 1996, the law has been challenged several times over the years, as well as amended, but has been highly debated since 2016 regarding the protection of social media companies.

Background

In the early 1990s as the internet became more widely adopted, online forums consisting of user-generated content began causing problems for internet service providers (ISPs). A number of legal cases that placed these service providers at fault for the content created by their users resulted in challenges against CompuServe and Prodigy (shown below). Initially, CompuServe refused to regulate such content, while Prodigy created a team of moderators to patrol its users. In two key legal challenges, CompuServe was ultimately found not to be at fault for its stance on choosing not to moderate, while Prodigy was held responsible for taking an “editorial role” with its customers’ content.

Shortly after these cases, ISPs addressed the issue with the challenges to Congress, citing concerns that it would suppress the growth of the web. Also during this timeframe, the Communications Decency Act was being prepared by Congress, and after a grassroots movement within the tech industry to challenge the bill, Congress concluded that requiring ISPs to moderate content would label them as publishers under the First Amendment and make them liable for user-generated content. As a result, representatives Chris Cox and Ron Wyden wrote the…

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