Section 230 Matters

Tell Congress To Stop SESTA And Protect Internet Safe Harbors

Read Our Open Letter Add Your Signature

Section 230 is important for everyone.

A wide variety of public interest groups, trade associations, think tanks, experts and other organizations from across the political spectrum have spoken out about the dangers of SESTA and the importance of Section 230 safe harbors:

Other Open Letters:

  • Aug. 2, 2017 Multi-Trade Letter [pdf]

    From: CompTIA, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Internet Association, Internet Commerce Coalition, Internet Infrastructure Coalition, NetChoice, Software & Information Industry Association, Tech:NYC, The Internet Society

    “By creating new carve-outs to CDA230, this language will have the unintended consequence of allowing opportunistic trial lawyers to bring a deluge of frivolous litigation targeting legitimate, law-abiding intermediaries and create the potential for unpredictable, inconsistent enforcement by state authorities for political or monetary gain.”
  • Aug. 3, 2017 Center-Right Groups Letter [pdf]

    From: R Street Institute, TechFreedom, FreedomWorks, New America's Open Technology Institute, International Center for Law and Economics, Campaign for Liberty, Free the People, Copia Institute, Niskanen Center, Access Now

    “The problem today is not a lack of legal remedies but under-enforcement (or slow enforcement) by the U.S. Justice Department. The bill would do nothing to address this problem. Instead, it would discourage online platform operators from policing their sites and generally undermine America's uniquely innovative online ecosystem.”
    “... the proposed bill is unclear as to what constitutes "knowing conduct:" Is it actual knowledge of specific ads for human trafficking, general awareness that some human trafficking is taking place, or something else? That ambiguity would be inappropriate and intolerable for online platforms, who would be forced to assume the worst and take extreme measures to protect themselves from liability, as discussed above.”
  • Aug. 4, 2017 Free Speech Groups Letter [pdf]

    From: Access Now, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Coalition Against Censorship, New America's Open Technology Institute, PEN America

    “The risk of federal and state criminal and civil liability for user speech would create an incredibly strong incentive for intermediaries to err on the side of caution and take down any speech that is flagged to them as potentially relating to trafficking. Moreover, the risk of liability would likely discourage intermediaries from engaging in good-faith efforts to screen or moderate content, since such review of content could create "actual knowledge" for the intermediary of potentially illegal content and trigger potential criminal and civil penalties.”
  • Aug. 9, 2017 Multi-Association Letter [pdf]

    From: BSA | The Software Alliance, Chamber Technology Engagement Center, Digital Media Association, Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet

    “The merits of CDA 230's legal protections are evident in the proactive measures our companies take every day to ensure their online services are not abused by criminals. Among the ways our companies proactively combat human trafficking and other forms of exploitation are by dedicating resources to ensure their networks are safe and secure by identifying, removing, and reporting illegal content.”
  • Aug. 2, 2017 Consumer Technology Association Letter

    “By enabling civil lawsuits under state law, the legislation invites trial lawyers to bring an onslaught of frivolous and vexatious lawsuits against internet companies simply by including an allegation of sex trafficking. Similarly, politically motivated state attorneys general can be counted on to use the new loophole to bring broad and costly subpoenas against online platforms, and state legislators could threaten internet intermediaries on a national basis by amending existing laws so as to invite such suits. Law-abiding companies would bear the burden of these lawsuits, while bad actors could easily escape by changing their URL addresses or relocating abroad.”
    “Without the protections of Section 230 internet platforms would be legally liable for all user content and forced to engage in resource-intensive review and self-censorship, while losing protection for their own voluntary initiatives to inspect posted content. As an association that represents primarily small businesses, we are aware that these burdens will fall most heavily on startups and entrepreneurs.”

Public Interest Group Statements:

  • Jul. 31, 2017 Competitive Enterprise Institute Statement

    “...it would be profoundly concerning and regrettable for all of us fully law-abiding Internet users if the effort to stop Backpage were to undercut the sound principle that online intermediaries hosting or republishing others' speech are not legally responsible for what those others say and do.”
  • Aug. 1, 2017 Center for Democracy & Technology Statement

    “While the senators are motivated by a commendable dedication to fighting human trafficking, the bill would undermine core legal protections that serve as the foundation for free expression and access to information online. We urge the Senate to reject this bill's flawed approach.”
  • Aug. 2, 2017 Electronic Frontier Foundation Statement

    “What the bill would do is expose any person, organization, platform, or business that hosts third-party content on the Internet to the risk of overwhelming criminal and civil liability if sex traffickers use their services. For small Internet businesses, that could be fatal: with the possibility of devastating litigation costs hanging over their heads, we think that many entrepreneurs and investors will be deterred from building new businesses online.”
    “Make no mistake: sex trafficking is a real, horrible problem. This bill is not the way to address it. Lawmakers should think twice before passing a disastrous law and endangering free expression and innovation.”

Trade Association Statements:

  • Aug. 1, 2017 | Internet Association — Statement On The Introduction Of The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017

    “This bill is overly broad and will be counterproductive in the fight to combat human trafficking. While not the intention of the bill, it would create a new wave of frivolous and unpredictable actions against legitimate companies rather than addressing underlying criminal behavior.”
  • Aug. 1, 2017 | Engine Advocacy — Statement On The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act

    “We are eager to work with law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups to craft policies that put an end to online human trafficking, but we fear that the approach proposed in the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act will have serious unintended consequences on the startup ecosystem without any meaningful impact on the bad actors the bill is nominally meant to address.”
  • Aug. 2, 2017 | CTA — Senate Bill Amending Section 230 Hurts Internet Companies

    “We recognize that attempts to amend Section 230 target sex traffickers are well intended. However, the likely result will be to create a trial lawyer bonanza of overly-broad civil lawsuits. More, the Department of Justice has the legal authority to go after sex traffickers and bad actors now, without additional legislation.”
  • Aug. 1, 2017 | CCIA — Tech Industry Warns About Unintended Consequences Of Proposed Changes To Reduce Human Trafficking

    “Undermining critical legal protections for lawful internet services will not help in the fight against illegal activity online. Instead of stamping out rogue activity, this will discourage online services from developing strategies to fight criminal activity online.”
  • Aug. 2, 2017 | NetChoice — Statement of Carl M Szabo, Senior Policy Counsel

    “We fully support the existing law — Section 230 — that allows for the U.S. Department of Justice to find, apprehend, and prosecute online sex and human trafficking rings. The DOJ needs no additional power or permission to make the Internet safer from these bad actors.”

Congressional Statements:

  • Aug. 1, 2017 | Senator Ron Wyden — Statement On Legislation To Wreck Foundation Of The Internet And Social Media

    “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is widely viewed as the legal basis for all of social media and it has been vital to the expansion of affordable internet access throughout the country. This proposal takes a wrecking ball to that foundation without so much as a committee hearing. It is yet another example of the technical ignorance of Congress threatening the jobs, lives and economic opportunities of millions of Americans.”

Expert Statements:

  • Jul. 31, 2017 | Eric Goldman — Senate's "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017" — And Section 230's Imminent Evisceration

    “We've already seen a spate of litigation against social media services over the "material support for terrorists" laws, even though Section 230 clearly preempts those. Without Section 230, the potential financial damages of those cases pose existential threats to every online service because they become financial guarantors of all harms caused by terrorists who used their services. ... In effect, this law would create the same deep pockets dynamic, except for sex trafficking instead of terrorism, and the potential financial exposure may pose an existential threat to many — if not all — online services.”

Fact Sheets:

  • Sept. 18, 2017 | Engine Advocacy — Top Ten Myths About SESTA's Impact On Startups [pdf]

    “Section 230 does not grant websites any immunity for violations of federal criminal law, including sex trafficking laws. The Department of Justice has the full authority to prosecute websites that are facilitating sex trafficking.”
    “The risk of burdensome and frivolous litigation is not hypothetical. We’ve seen how perfectly legitimate online platforms can be targeted by frivolous lawsuits on issues like online intermediary liability and intellectual property. The cost of defending a company from a lawsuit, even a meritless one, is enough to put many startups out of business or to keep them from launching in the first place.”

Commentary & Analysis:

  • Aug. 3, 2017 | The Hill — Defending Crucial Protections For Internet Platforms

    By: Evan Engstrom (Engine Advocacy) & Jesse Blumenthal (Charles Koch Institute)

    “Today, policymakers looking for easy answers to difficult societal problems​ have put forward proposals to walk back CDA 230's protections, hoping that holding platforms liable for user activities will keep bad actors off the Internet. After all, it is much easier for a government agent to tell large companies like Facebook to remove undesirable posts or to tell eBay not to sell this type of item than it is to prosecute those who commit underlying crimes. But forcing every major tech company to become a law enforcement monitor, censor, and agent will do far more harm than good.”
    “Rather than meddle with this foundational law that has been essential to digital innovation and freedom of expression, law enforcement should focus on the underlying criminals. The problem is not the lack of legal remedies but rather the underutilization of existing law enforcement tools. It is essential that tomorrow's startups have the same opportunity to innovate, free from excessive coercion.”
  • Aug. 3, 2017 | DisCo — Why State Regulation Of Online Services Threatens The Internet Economy

    By: Matt Schruers (CCIA)

    “Proponents of SESTA argue it will only affect services "knowingly" engaged in facilitating illegal activity. In other words, if an online service doesn't know that crime or misconduct is occurring, this new exception to Section 230 would not apply. If this were so, it would make SESTA a narrower bill. But it isn't true. SESTA makes clear that Section 230 protection won't apply in any "State criminal prosecution or civil enforcement action targeting conduct that violates a Federal criminal law prohibiting" trafficking. There's no restriction to "knowing" conduct, leaving online services exposed to state class actions and politically motivated prosecutions. (In any event, everyone knows bad actors use the Internet.)”
  • Aug. 1, 2017 | Techdirt — Senate's Latest Attack On Backpage Will Be Massively Counterproductive, Create Tremendous Harm

    By: Mike Masnick (Copia)

    “CDA 230 has two provisions that work together in unison: one that protects platforms from liability for actions of their users and a second one that is equally important (but often forgotten) that says that if a platform does moderate content, that moderation does not introduce new liability.”
    “And, we've already seen years of state AGs grandstanding on issues by blaming tech companies for things their users do, as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of frivolous lawsuits where private individuals and companies sue platforms over actions of their users, all trying to find holes in CDA 230. And this bill opens up a wide one. Just make some halfway credible claim that someone somehow engaged in trafficking uses the platform and voila.”
  • Aug. 1, 2017 | The Verge — A New Bill To Fight Sex Trafficking Would Destroy A Core Pillar Of Internet Freedom

    By: Sarah Jeong

    “Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, writes that "this law potentially implicates every online service that deals with user-generated content." He suggests that the unclear wording of the bill could hit websites hard. In addition to widening liability for user-generated content, a state could piggyback off the legislation to create a new law that would impose liability for all posts promoting the sex trafficking of children unless a site prescreens content or user registrations. This could potentially empower any one state in the US to create a new regulatory regime for the entire web.”