Section 230 is a provision of the Communications Decency Act that provides legal immunity for online platforms for user-generated content. This means that online platforms such as social media sites, review sites, and discussion forums are not held legally responsible for the content posted by their users. The Supreme Court begins reviewing the first case covering Section 230 liability protections, Google vs. Gonzalez, today.
Section 230 is important for freedom of speech because it allows individuals to express themselves online without fear of censorship or legal repercussions. Without this protection, online platforms may be held liable for any defamatory or illegal content posted by their users, which could lead to them becoming overly cautious and removing content that is controversial or unpopular, even if it is protected under the First Amendment.
Moreover, without Section 230, online platforms would likely have to spend a significant amount of resources moderating user-generated content to avoid legal liability, which could stifle innovation and limit the diversity of online platforms.
Those of you old enough to remember community bulletin boards like the one pictured above remember how useful they were because ANYONE could post advertisements for baby-sitters or puppies for sale or community gatherings. These boards were up at gathering places like grocery stores, libraries and parks. And occasionally someone would put something offensive up, and the community would take it down. And this worked.
If a Wal-Mart could be sued by someone because there was something bad on the board they hosted, Target would then have a financial incentive to pin up objectionable content. Similarly on the internet, if companies can be sued because someone posted something objectionable, then you give people an way to destroy big tech companies by posting objectionable content. Individuals are protected from being prosecuted for their posts by the first amendment, so a person has no risk.
Should Walmart be responsible for the behavior of everyone who enters their store? Of course not.
Section 230 strikes a balance between protecting online platforms from legal liability and promoting free speech online. It allows individuals to express themselves freely while holding individuals accountable for their own actions online.