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Commentary: Why the most controversial US internet law is worth saving

US president Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, agree on at least one issue: [eradicating] the arcane federal law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act... Section 230 protects platforms and websites from most lawsuits related to content posted by users... By legally insulating online businesses, Section 230 has encouraged innovation and growth. Without the law, new internet companies would have more difficulty getting aloft, while established platforms would block many more posts in response to heightened litigation risks. Pointed political debate might get removed, and free expression would be constricted.

But many people have rightly questioned whether internet companies do enough to counter harmful content, and whether Section 230 effectively lets them off the hook... Driving this debate is the widely felt sense that the major social-media platforms—Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram; Twitter; and YouTube, which is owned by Google—do not properly manage the content they host. Evidence includes the spread of false information about elections and covid-19, conspiracy theories like QAnon, cyber-bullying, revenge porn, and much more.

There are real problems with the way Section 230 is worded today, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers should toss the whole thing out. Its core ought to be preserved, primarily to protect smaller platforms and websites from lawsuits. At the same time, the law should be updated to push internet companies to accept greater responsibility for the content on their sites. Moreover, the US needs a specialized government body—call it the Digital Regulatory Agency—to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled...

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