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The facts about Section 230, the internet speech law Trump wants to change

Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies such as Twitter. The order centers on Section 230, a fragment of law from the 1990s that underpins much of today's internet and is often misunderstood.

Here's a rundown of what the law is, what's at stake, and what Trump's executive order might accomplish.

-- WHAT IS SECTION 230?

Section 230 is a small piece of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that has, in many ways, created the internet we all use today.

Its first part 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."

In effect, that means websites are not legally responsible for what other people post there. That applies to every site on the internet, whether they're social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, sites that depend on customer reviews such as Yelp and Amazon, or any website with a comment section, from the Los Angeles Times to your personal blog.

 

It also has a second part, which states website owners or users can't be held liable for deleting or restricting access to anything they deem objectionable if those actions are "taken in good faith."

Without Section 230, any company operating a website could be sued over a statement posted by a user, and sued by any user whose post was deleted. Internet companies with many millions of users could ill afford to defend large numbers of such lawsuits, even if they won most of them.

There are some existing exceptions to those protections. According to the original law, they don't apply to violations of federal criminal law, intellectual property law, or the Electronic Privacy Communications Act -- this is why YouTube tries to take down copyrighted material, for instance, and companies try to respond quickly to reports of child pornography, which is a federal crime. Starting in 2018, a new law also exempted the facilitation of sex trafficking from Section 230 protections.

-- HOW DID SECTION 230 BECOME LAW?

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