Sigh. #ELI5 Section 230:

#Section230 requires you to sue the right person.
Starting with a basic example: If I Tweet something false about you, Section 230 requires that you sue me, not Twitter.

This outcome makes sense. Twitter isn't the author of the false Tweet, I am.
But that's not how it works offline! (you might be thinking). We sue newspapers all the time for the defamatory articles they choose to publish! They're even liable for the articles they don't author!

You're right to be confused. At a distance, this doesn't make sense.
In the offline world, legal liability is all about control.

Offline newspapers control the articles they choose to publish and spread to the world. Offline newspapers exhibit a great deal of control over their content. So, we hold them liable for that content.
On the flip-side, telephone companies cannot control what's said between their customers over their phone lines. They can't just step in during your phone call and prevent your message from getting out.

They don't have that kind of control. So, we don't hold them liable.
Which liability box do websites fit into? Is Twitter like a newspaper? Or, is Twitter like a phone company?

It seems like Twitter could fit into both boxes. Twitter could choose to pre-screen every single Tweet before it's published (like newspapers). Some websites do that.
Or, Twitter could keep doing exactly what it does right now, allowing you to instantly communicate from one user to many without any stops along the way. (like a phone company).

So, if websites can fit into both boxes, how do we decide when websites are and are not liable?
Well, that's the beauty of #Section230. We don't have to make that call. Section 230 simply and elegantly says websites (and their users) are not liable for third-party content.
Imagine if we did attempt to stuff websites into the newspaper or phone boxes. Websites would have a real dilemma:

On the one hand, websites want the least amount of legal risk possible. So they would try to model themselves like the phone companies. No control = no liability.
On the other hand, imagine how awful the Internet would be if every single website followed that model. A hands-off, everything goes, website would be cluttered with graphic pornography, gruesome violence, hateful speech, you name it.

all of which is 100% legal speech btw.
I think we can all agree that we want websites to tidy up a bit. We want websites to remove and filter out all of the awful stuff so that we can thrive in a socially productive space.

Advertisers certainly prefer that too. (How do you think websites like Twitter make money?)
But, if websites choose to "tidy up," they're acting a bit like newspapers by "controlling" the content they choose to spread to the world. Control = legal liability.

Millions of users, tons of content, all multiplied by millions of possible lawsuits...would you take that risk?
#Section230 makes this dilemma vanish. Websites get the best of both boxes. They can moderate (control) their services as they see fit for their users and advertisers, and at the same time, they have the breathing room to do so, without the looming threat of suit.
The same goes for us users too! #Section230 says we're not liable for sharing, liking, commenting, or retweeting each other's content too. Imagine if that weren't true. What if you could be sued for retweeting a post that turns out to be defamatory? Would you keep retweeting?
So, we agree, the Internet isn't an offline newspaper publisher, or a telephone line, or a company town, or a local grocery store. The Internet is the Internet.

It's a new medium for communication. So, it deserves a new box.
Now that you're equipped with this powerful information, you might start asking yourself what the Internet would look like if our politicians "REPEAL SECTION 230."

You might even ask why they want it repealed in the first place.
To your first question, without 230, the Internet would look a lot like your Netflix subscription. All of your content is pre-screened, pre-packaged, and chosen for you by Netflix. That's the least risky outcome for websites that can't afford the absurd risks of user content.
To your second question. It's obvious why Trump wants to repeal 230. He wants Twitter to stop moderating his Tweets. He hates being fact-checked because it thwarts his ability to gaslight us all.

Again, you should be VERY suspicious of gov officials that want to repeal 230.
Thank you for coming to my #ELI5 thread. If you've never heard of Section 230, I hope this helped a little.

If you want to chat more, my DMs are always open or you can shoot me an email at miersjessica@gmail.com. Check out more of my 230 work here: ctrlaltdissent.com/cv/

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More from @jess_miers

17 Sep
Of all the people he's attacked, I'm the only one who actually works for Google. I understand my ties to big tech may undermine my credibility. But ATOTD, like my colleagues, my #Section230 advocacy has always been rooted in my deep commitment to free speech and the Internet.
I became a legal scholar on #Section230 before Google, TechFreedom, or any other role I've had in this industry. My passion for preserving one of the greatest innovations for worldwide human communication is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Not my paycheck.
I joined Google not because I felt strongly about defending big tech but because I knew that I wanted to make serious, meaningful impact on the way we (the users) feel about the Internet.

I knew that as a junior scholar, that impact could only be made by joining the big leagues.
Read 6 tweets
1 Sep
Comments regarding the NTIA's #Section230 petition are due. Given the conflict with my role @ Google, I am not submitting official comments. But, as someone deeply passionate about the Internet, I can't help but offer some personal opinions (thread).
ntia.gov/files/ntia/pub…
I'll start with a couple reminders:
-184K dead Americans from COVID-19
-racial injustice continues to plague our nation
-Kyle Rittenhouse MURDERED two people and both our president and the GOP refuse to condemn his acts.
-the democratic process is being tampered with
I offer those reminders simply to point out that our country is suffering. WE are suffering. Our nation is at its absolute lowest point.

But rather than putting out these massive fires, our government is fanning the flames. #Section230 shouldn't be anywhere near top of mind.
Read 29 tweets
10 Jul
Random late-night #lawtwitter thread: I'm often asked by incoming law students how they can start to figure out what field of law they're interested in so they can hit the ground running as soon as their 1L year starts. This is a fantastic Q.
You don't need to know exactly what it is you want to do day 1 of law school. That's impossible. You won't quite know what all your options are and there's just so much to learn.

But having an idea of what you might want to study/practice does have some awesome advantages.
For starters, you can tailor your informational interviews and networking experiences towards your interests and get more direction on how to pursue your "dream" career early on.

Also, people notice when you're passionate about something. You'll stand-out among your peers.
Read 11 tweets
28 May
If you've ever wondered why Internet companies don't follow their own rules, this is it. The one time Twitter attempts to elevate social discourse by experimenting with moderation that goes outside the binary leave up/takedown scheme, it's met with an #executiveorder.
Before #Section230, we had the "moderator's dilemma." Services could attempt to moderate in an effort to promote a healthier/friendlier environment. But they would do so at the risk of legal liability for any content that slipped through the cracks.
On the other hand, they could choose not to moderate, avoid any legal liability, and accept their resulting anti-social, garbage-filled cesspools. #Section230 made it so that they wouldn't have to choose between legal liability and trolls.
Read 12 tweets
22 Apr
So excited to be today's @ZoomLawSchool guest lecturer! Today we'll be discussing Internet Law's greatest (and perhaps most infamous) mystery: The case of Ken Zeran v. America Online.
The origins of this case trace back to tragedy. We solemnly remember this past April 19th as the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. This horrible act of domestic terrorism resulted in the death of ~ 168 people, injuring 680 more.
Just six days after the bombing, in 1995, an advertisement appeared on the "Michigan Military Movement" AOL message board.

Posted by "KenZZ03," the ad boasted T-Shirts and other items with disgusting and tasteless OKC bombing slogans. Interested in purchasing? Just call Ken. Image
Read 27 tweets
26 Jan
We reached a much needed breakthrough with today's session, starting w/an engineer's bold statement: "data scraping is NEVER illegal." With that, a chain reaction was set off. Sarcastic laughter from the law students followed by quick retorts by business/engineering students...
We weren't frustrated because of the lack of definite answers, we were frustrated because our lanes were crossing. We so badly wanted everyone to keep to their place. The law students should speak about the law, the engineers code, and the businesspeople make money.
Everything was operating so smoothly up until the point an engineer, god forbid, decided to speak up about the law. It bothered us and you could see it. We laughed, rolled our eyes, stopped listening...what business does the coder have telling us how to do our job?
Read 13 tweets

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