What is Section 230 and why is it so controversial? Ask the lawyer


Q: I keep reading about Section 230, and heated arguments back and forth. Just what is going on there?

-F.S., Los Angeles

Ron Sokol

A: Section 230 is a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects companies that host user-created content from lawsuits over posts. It shields not just internet service providers (for example, Comcast and Verizon), but also social media platforms such as Twitter, Google and Facebook.

Section 230 reads, in part: “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.” Thus, the website can avoid responsibility for what others post. It does not provide blanket protection, however, as there are exceptions, such as for federal crimes and intellectual property claims.  Efforts have been and are being made to either repeal or modify Section 230. Some argue that tech firms exploit Section 230 as a way of disguising politically partisan activity. Another complaint is that platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) unfairly  modify or preclude content without being held responsible. Bottom line, stay tuned because the controversy is not going away.

Q: Who regulates social media?

-C.O., Lomita

A: The federal agency most often cited as regulating social media is the Federal Communications Commission. The role of the FCC is to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The Federal Trade Commission, however, also plays a regulatory role with regard to monitoring social media advertising and enforcing compliance with its rules. At the state level, there is oversight in some material respects. For example, in California on consumer privacy rights. Finally, Congress can and has investigated various aspects of social media. In sum, social media has a number of eyes watching and seeking to have impact on its conduct.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at ronsesq@gmail.com.

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