At the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), we are proud to be ardent defenders of §230. Even before §230 was enacted in 1996, we recognized that all speech on the Internet relies upon intermediaries, like ISPs, web hosts, search engines, and social media companies. Most of the time, it relies on more than one. Because of this, we know that intermediaries must be protected from liability for the speech of their users if the Internet is to live up to its promise, as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in ACLU v. Reno, of enabling “any person … [to] become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox“ and hosting “content … as diverse as human thought.”
As we hoped—and based in large measure on the strength of the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Zeran—§230 has proven to be one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet. In the past two decades, we’ve filed well over 20 legal briefs in support of §230, probably more than on any other issue, in response to attempts to undermine or sneak around the statute. Thankfully, most of these attempts were unsuccessful. In most cases, the facts were ugly—Zeran included. We had to convince judges to look beyond the individual facts and instead focus on the broader implications: that forcing intermediaries to become censors would jeopardize the Internet’s promise of giving a voice to all and supporting more robust public discourse than ever before possible.
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