Section 230 Gives Voice to People of Color. Eliminating It Would Make the Internet Worse for Us.
Dumping 230 Would Turn the Internet into a Sanitized Disneyland — or a Hate-Filled Wasteland
Social media has been an amazing connector and equalizer for communities of color, especially those like me whose parents or grandparents immigrated to this country.
We stay in touch with our families by sharing photos and recipes on digital platforms. And we remain connected to our cultural networks by engaging in sharing our thoughts on the news or personal reflections.
All of this is possible due in part to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
While no online space is totally free from bots and bad actors, platforms deploy considerable resources and AI tools to remove content that is illegal, racist, or otherwise harmful. Over the last year, Twitter removed 4.5 million pieces of content that violated its terms of service. During the same period, Facebook took down 14.5 million posts for bullying and harassment violations, and millions more for nudity, hate speech, and violence.
Section 230 Enables Removal of Hate Speech
Social media platforms can take these kinds of actions knowing that the immunity shield provided by Section 230 allows them to remove negative content without fear of liability. There are countless examples of how Section 230 has enabled companies to remove dangerous content, by fending off lawsuits from unhappy posters.
Recently, some well-intentioned Democrats have introduced a number of bills that would amend or eliminate Section 230 in the hopes of further cracking down on malicious content.
But all of these bills ignore the impact of changes to Section 230 on the larger online ecosystem, the impact on smaller platforms, and worst of all how such changes could empower the same nefarious elements they seek to diminish.
Disneyland or Wasteland
Removing Section 230 would give social media companies two options: turning their platforms into an overly-curated Disneyland, or allowing them to decay into a digital wasteland.
Without liability protections, these platforms would be encouraged to either censor everything to shield themselves from liability over harmful content — or to censor nothing, washing their hands of whatever content is posted to their platforms.
Either way, traditionally marginalized communities would be hardest hit by these changes.
Scratching 230 Means More Restrictions…
Communities of color have a history of being censored. If Section 230 were eliminated and websites held legally responsible for every single piece of content, our voices would likely be the most impacted.
Imagine an internet where posts rallying the public to join in the racial reckoning of 2020, or posts informing electorates about candidates of color not backed by powerful institutions, are taken down by social media platforms, for fear of attracting litigation or controversy.
The people who relied on these digital platforms to spread their messages in a free flow of information would completely lose their power. Section 230 ensures that the great equalizing power of technology stays just what it was meant to be: a way for all communities to be empowered by their connections.
…Or More Hate Online
The alternative outcome is just as bad for minority communities. If Section 230 reform made platforms legally liable for any content moderation, platforms could take a hands off approach. And experience shows that hate speech and racism would flourish.
We’ve seen just that with “free speech” online platforms like Parler and Gab. Take away the Section 230’s “Good Samaritan” incentives for content moderation, and the end result would likely be an elimination of moderated, safe online spaces for communities of color.
As the debate continues over tech regulation, it’s critically important that Congress not accidentally overreach, censoring minority communities or empowering free-for-all hate speech platforms. The internet — and Section 230 as one of its most critical underlying laws — is an equalizer, a democratizer, and amplifier of communities of color.
The Chamber of Progress (progresschamber.org) is a new center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future. We work to ensure that all Americans benefit from technological leaps, and that the tech industry operates responsibly and fairly.
Our work is supported by our corporate partners, but our partners do not sit on our board of directors and do not have a vote on or veto over our positions. We do not speak for individual partner companies and remain true to our stated principles even when our partners disagree.