Diverging Paths for Platform Liability: The impact of Section 230 and the choice for America’s digital future
As a result of growing global techlash, many countries are strengthening penalties for online platforms that host “harmful” user-created content.
The U.S. has so far not embraced this approach. Instead, in 1996, the Communications Decency Act was passed into law. The law contained Section 230, a clause that meant online platforms, with some exceptions, would not be held liable for content created and posted to their service by users. Section 230 has been credited with enabling user-created content online, or “Net 2.0.”
As techlash and skepticism to Section 230 grows in Congress, what has been the impact of Section 230 in the U.S.? Should the U.S. continue down this path or should we follow other countries?
Dr. Jessica Ashooh is Director of Policy for Reddit. In this capacity, she oversees all content, product, advertising, and public policy for the company, as well as global government relations. Ashooh comes to Reddit from a previous career in international affairs focused on the Middle East. From 2015 to 2017, she served as Deputy Director for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley’s bipartisan Middle East Strategy Task Force at the Atlantic Council, a think tank. From 2011 to 2015, Ashooh worked as a senior analyst in the UAE Foreign Ministry’s Policy Planning Department in Abu Dhabi. She focused especially on the crisis in Syria, working closely with the UAE Special Envoy for Syria and the Syrian political opposition to support the UN-led peace process in Geneva. Ashooh also spent time in Erbil, Iraq in 2010 working as a consultant to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Minister of Planning. Ashooh holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford (St. Antony’s College), which she attended as a Marshall Scholar. She did her undergraduate studies at Brown University, including time abroad at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and the Bourguiba Language Institute in Tunisia.
Emma Llansó is the Director of CDT’s Free Expression Project, which works to promote law and policy that support users’ free expression rights in the United States and around the world. Emma leads CDT’s work in advancing speech-protective policies, which include legislative advocacy and amicus activity in the U.S. aimed at ensuring that online expression receives the highest level of protection under the First Amendment. Recognizing the crucial role played by Internet intermediaries in facilitating individuals’ expression, she works to preserve strong intermediary liability protections in the U.S. and to advance these key policies abroad.
Emma also leads the Free Expression Project’s work in developing content policy best practices with Internet content platforms and advocating for user-empowerment tools and other alternatives to government regulation of online speech. The Project’s work spans many subjects, including online child safety and children’s privacy, human trafficking, privacy and online reputation issues, counter-terrorism and “radicalizing” content, and online harassment. Emma is also a member of the Freedom Online Coalition’s Working Group on Privacy and Transparency Online, which is developing best practices for transparency reporting by governments and companies regarding government demands to Internet companies for content removal and access to user data. Emma works with CDT’s Global Internet Policy & Human Rights Project on advancing policies that promote free expression in global fora; she also works with the Global project in advocating for decentralized, multistakeholder approaches to Internet governance.
Emma earned a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Delaware and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Emma joined CDT in 2009 as the Bruce J. Ennis First Amendment Fellow; her fellowship project focused on legal and policy advocacy in support of minors’ First Amendment rights in the US. She is a member of the New York State Bar.
Jeff Kosseff is an assistant professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy’s Cyber Science Department. His latest book, The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet, a history of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, will be published in Spring 2019 by Cornell University Press. He also is the author of Cybersecurity Law, a textbook and treatise published by Wiley in 2017, with a second edition forthcoming in 2019. His articles have appeared in Iowa Law Review, Wake Forest Law Review, Computer Law & Security Review, and other law reviews and technology law journals. A full list of his publications is available at jeffkosseff.com.
Jeff practiced cybersecurity, privacy, and First Amendment law at Covington & Burling, and clerked for Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Before becoming a lawyer, he was a technology and political journalist for The Oregonian and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and recipient of the George Polk Award for national reporting.
He received a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and a B.A. and M.P.P. from the University of Michigan.