Twenty years after it was first litigated in earnest, the U.S. Communications Decency Act’s §230 remains both obscure and vital. Section 230 nearly entirely eliminated the liability of Internet content platforms under state common law for bad acts, such as defamation, occasioned by their users. The platforms were free to structure their moderation and editing of comments as they pleased, without a traditional newspaper’s framework in which to undertake editing was to bear responsibility for what was published. If the New York Times included a letter to the editor that defamed someone, the Times would be vulnerable to a lawsuit (to be sure, so would the letter’s author, whose wallet size would likely make for a less tempting target). Not so for online content portals that welcome comments from anywhere—including the online version of the New York Times.
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