Section 230(c)(1):

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.

There has been a lot of discussion about how this section should be changed to make sure social media companies don't censor conservative voices. Yet I fail to see how this section protects them from legal responsibility for censorship. If it only concerns actions of users of the platforms and the companies' liability then censoring the posts of some of the users or making sure companies don't do that, have nothing to do with that article So why is there so much discussion about it?

  • What "legal responsibility for censorship" would there be, and how would that work with the 1st amendment right to freedom of association?
    – Batman
    Aug 17, 2019 at 19:38

4 Answers 4


The idea behind Section 230 is that, even if you moderate the posts made on your website you are still not liable for comments made by your users.

So lets say you run a BBS, and user1 posts hardcore porn. You notice this and delete the post. Then user2 posts something defamatory. You leave this up (either because you didn't notice it, or you want to promote the principle of freedom of speech, or even because you agree with it, the reason doesn't matter) Now the courts say: Because you were able to delete the porn posting, this proves that you are responsible for everything on your site. Therefore you can be sued for defamation.

To avoid this scenario you might decide "Okay, I won't moderate at all". You can then claim to be purely a platform and not a publisher, since you exercise no control over content.

The government wanted to avoid this, they didn't want to provide a perverse disinsentive to moderation of online content. And so section 230 allows for online providers to be treated like a platform, even if they moderate the content on the site

Some conservatives see this as allowing online services to choose to moderate in a politically biased way. They don't have to be unbiased to obtain section 230 protection, and so they are biased. The proposals are that section 230 protection should only be granted if the service provider moderates in a politically unbiased way. If the remove or moderate conservative posts, and not liberal ones, then they should be treated as a publisher, and responsible for all the content on their site, and so open to lawsuits if anything on your site is defamatory or illegal.

  • The problem with the claim that they should be politically non-bias is how do you define non-bias? There are wack-job extreamists on every side of the political spectrum, do you need to protect the most extreme content, no matter what it is? If some loon posts that vaccines cause autism on your medical forum do you have to leave it up because they believe it's part of their political views? for that matter maybe NAMBLA comes around and tries to post child porn, saying their political views are that it's okay. In the end you go back to no moderation because everything is political.
    – dsollen
    Aug 22, 2019 at 13:30

Examples of "provider or user" are company, owner, or employee. It is saying that if (e.g.) Stack Exchange offers a question and answer service, it is not responsible for the things that another "information content provider" might use them to say. Examples of information content providers include you and me. You posted a question and I'm posting an answer. But Stack Exchange is not considered to be publishing or speaking our content. They're just a platform.

If section 230 were removed, then Stack Exchange (or whatever provider or user) could be sued for things that I used its platform to say. It would have to evaluate the legality of every such statement before allowing it on the platform. And of course the simplest thing is to deny the statement. It can't be sued for denying true statements, only for allowing false ones.

TL;DR: social media companies are the providers in that section, which protects them from liability.


Those discussions stem from the expectations that Facebook should be politically neutral and provide equal service to anyone regardless of their views, which are currently just that: expectations. Current regulations give them the freedom to host user content and moderate it without being liable for any offensive material they have missed. There is no "liability of bias" as such.

Communications Decency Act is here to protect decency (by letting platforms remove offensive material at their discretion). It's not designed to protect freedom of speech, which doesn't apply to private companies. However, it's not impossible that (for instance) one day Facebook will be recognized as the social network that all people have the right to use, and then it will have legal obligations to provide equal services to people regardless of their views. This will likely be implemented in a different legal framework than Communications Decency Act, possibly anti-trust or anti-discrimination laws.


They are either:

a) platform - so all legal stuff is perfectly fine, they have to stay neutral, then they can not discriminate against any dissenting views, but are not liable for any crazy user

b) publisher - no one could call it "censorship" as they have full discretion in selecting the stuff to publish, it would be even natural for them to develop some political bias. However, they should be picky and remove potentially dangerous content as they are liable for it.

OK, so what are they? They say being a platform which grants them legal protection of not being sued for posted content, while also heavily use right to ban people and videos which they dislike for ideological reason.

While the rumours had been circulating for a while, right now leaked documents show that they have quite strong distaste toward right-wingers and and try to skew the system against them. (Promising to prevent "Trump situation" in 2020) Nothing wrong about it per se, as long as you are publisher and exercise your editorial discretion. (if you are a neutral platform, such behaviour more resembles utility company cutting off electricity for political opponents)

What right wingers are trying achieve is end their ability to have the best of both worlds, and force them to choose whether they are actually platform or publisher. Apparently under contemporary regulations they managed to stay in this beautiful grey zone. Technically they would not be forced to accept dissenting views. However, if they are publisher, that would destroy their business model, as they would have to check every video to avoid some random people defaming each and later deciding to sue instead a rich company that was the publisher.

EDIT: Concerning cpast comment, it's becomes a bit more tricky when look at the bigger picture:

§ 230 (c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker 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.

(2) Civil liability

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of— (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected;

The ratio legis was to protect a "good Samaritan" that removed most "filthy" content, not give a blanket endorsement for any kind of editorial process (censorship?). Had that been this intention the whole following point would be pointless.

  • 2
    -1 This suggests providers make a choice between moderated “publisher” and unmoderated “platform,” when section 230 says precisely the opposite. Under US law, there is no requirement that you be any kind of “neutral” to have liability protections as an online service provider.
    – cpast
    Aug 18, 2019 at 15:39
  • @cpast I pasted a bigger part of the article, as you seem to draw your conclusions from a single subsection. No need to be "neutral"... Well the regulation clearly requires activity in "good faith", which may be a bit questionable ex. when Pinterests in a filter marked a pro-life organisation, as a pornographic site.
    – Shadow1024
    Aug 18, 2019 at 16:19
  • The law explicitly gives a blanket endorsement for censoring any material that the provider views as "objectionable," regardless of whether it's constitutionally protected. While the intent was mostly about censoring pornography, nothing in the law restricts it to that sort of thing. The actual text of the statute is what matters; legislative intent is not law.
    – cpast
    Aug 18, 2019 at 16:22
  • @cpast OK, so in your opinion what in this case requirement of "good faith" means? It's a prerequisite to be shielded in case of removing something "objectionable"...
    – Shadow1024
    Aug 18, 2019 at 16:37
  • "Good faith" is not a requirement for immunity from liability for information provided by someone else, only for immunity from liability for your own moderation decisions.
    – cpast
    Aug 18, 2019 at 19:56

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