COVID Makes Tech Policy Like CDA 230 More Important Than Ever

Arun Sundararajan
By Arun Sundararajan
The most important and influential piece of tech legislation ever, Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA 230), is under fire. The policy, which immunizes a digital platform from liability associated with the content created by its users, is the regulatory bedrock on which the digital economy has been built. It has enabled the birth and growth of media platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, crowd-created information services like Wikipedia, online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and recent sharing economy stalwarts like Airbnb, Uber and DoorDash.

Almost 25 years on, one might argue that the purpose of this legislation – as a safe harbor for youthful internet pioneers – has been served and it is now time to tighten the reins on Big Tech. This would be a mistake. CDA 230 is smart legislation that is central to the functioning of today’s U.S. economy. A repeal would disrupt the de facto status of platforms as society’s main custodians of the public trust, with dire economic and social consequences. Further, an arbitrary change to the status quo will amplify the current COVID-induced recessionary shock at a time when digital channels are critical to business survival, eventually shifting power in a broad range of industries to larger economic players, and obliterating much of American small business.  

Two key tenets give CDA 230 its power. The first asserts that platforms are not considered “publishers” of the content shared by users of the platform. Consequently, Facebook is not held liable for any fallout related to information posted by a Facebook user, Yelp is not held liable for the opinions about restaurants expressed by its users and Airbnb is not held liable for representations its hosts make about the quality of the accommodations these hosts offer.  

Read the full  article in The Hill.

Arun Sundararajan is Harold Price Professor of Entrepreneurship, Professor of Technology, Operations and Statistics and Undergraduate Faculty Advisor, Entrepreneurship