Today, Ars Technica published a fascinating exchange between Berkman Center faculty co-director John Palfrey and Adam Thierer (Progress & Freedom Foundation, Technology Liberation Front) on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the federal statute that shields website operators and other online service providers from liability for information posted or published by users of their sites or systems.
The debate centers around Professor Palfrey's suggestion, put forward in preliminary fashion in Born Digital, his book with Berkman Executive Director Urs Gasser, that Congress amend Section 230 to explicitly allow plaintiffs to bring negligence claims against online service providers for failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of users. In Palfrey's view, this change would give online service providers like social networks the incentive to take meaningful steps to protect children and others from harm that comes to them as a result of their activities online, and would require no more than what is expected of offline businesses (and individuals) as a matter of course.
Thierer strongly disagrees with this idea, arguing that broad Section 230 immunity is essential to promoting freedom of speech and innovation on the Internet, and that subjecting online service providers to a vague negligence standard or otherwise tinkering with the statute could threaten the Internet as we know it.
The Ars post has already generated a lively exchange of views on our internal email list here at Berkman. For anyone interested in Section 230, it is a must read. To expand the debate, and in the spirit of Section 230, we encourage you to express your views on this important issue in the comments section.
(Note: I am a fellow at the Berkman Center and the CMLP is hosted there.)