Washington, DC — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is far more than a partisan football; it’s central to the survival of the interconnected U.S. economy during this time of crisis.
Section 230 states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”. It is a simple, clear, and sensible piece of legislation that takes the way things exist in the physical world, and acknowledges that the same things are true online. Just as a hotel owner who rents you a room is not responsible for making sure you don’t do anything illegal there, Internet ‘intermediaries’ are afforded similar protections under the law. Like a hotel, they are allowed to uphold standards of behavior, but they aren’t held to the same legal standards as their guests. It’s pretty simple stuff.
Businesses upended by COVID-19 are looking for ways to digitize and survive, and Internet infrastructure providers are central to this effort. The U.S. economy in particular is being kept alive due to the technical intermediaries enabling participation in the digital economy. Section 230 is why this works. If you mess with this, you will have no digital economy left, and no economic recovery for the United States. Countries with proper sensible intermediary protections will be the ones to drive the world’s recovery, and the United States will lose the strength of the digital economy that helps to sustain the United States economically.
Section 230 is only being talked about in terms of how it applies to Google, Facebook, and Twitter. However, Section 230 is what allows the entire Internet’s infrastructure to operate within the United States without crushing legal liability over what Internet users may or may not do. Put simply, Section 230 is the law that lets you start a small Internet business without a team of lawyers behind you.
To change Section 230 is therefore to rip away the ability of small Internet businesses to compete. Only changing Section 230 for large businesses doesn’t work either. Internet technology is all interconnected, and small businesses always rely upon larger ones to compete. If you destroy intermediary protections at the top, these inevitably flow down, and affect the smaller businesses too.
Would the Internet survive the gutting of Section 230? The global Internet community would likely be fine, and certainly a few large incumbent players would adapt and strengthen their positions as the only ones with the large enough legal teams to keep their doors open. What will die is the promise of being able to start a small Internet business, to innovate, and to compete without crushing legal liability.
This Executive Order is a small business hostile, poison pill for the United States economy, just when we need the digital economy at full strength to help lift us up. The Internet Infrastructure Coalition implores lawmakers to keep their eyes focused on how we survive our current economic situation. We can survive this together by investing in further digitization of our economic engine – such as remote education resources, remote healthcare resources, remote workforce resources, and digital services for small businesses to spur economic growth. We cannot pull the rug out from under the sensible core legislative language that makes all those things possible.