J’accuse Section 230

Speaking of network neutrality, one of the related ideas is safe haven for intermediaries. This was first introduced in US leglislation by the Clinton administration in the so-alled Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1996. It said that service providers should not be held responsible for illegal of infringing activity on their networks. It also said that they must include functioning procedures for take-down in case of illegal or infringing activity happens, but the second part has sort of gotten lost on the way. The idea was to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the technology companies and the content providers. A decade and a half later, we know all too well how limited the judicial institutions’ powers are compared to the digital networks. Great idea in theory, useless in reality.

The specific section was called 230 and is hailed by writer Derek Khanna in a business story in The Atlantic as the cornerstone of the modern internet. And sure, great for tech businesses to not have to follow any rules, no surprise they make more money. But at the same time, Section 230 is the source of too many of the societal problems related to online. Where do you go if you are a victim of identity theft? Hacking? Grooming? IP infringement? Libel? Bullying or hate speech? And what about illegal pharmaceuticals or narcotics, child pornography, weapons or other things that society has a legitimate interest in trying to limit? In order to enforce any of these things, the solution is through an intermediary who knows the identity of the wrong-doer. But thanks to the safe haven regime, in almost all of these cases the answer will be “very touching story, not my problem”. When these concepts were developed, no one could foresee the extent of how the internet has touched every part of life and society. It makes no sense to have detailed regulation on an experiment which involves some computer enthusiasts. It makes all the sense in the world to have detailed regulation in a complex society. Some would call it rule of law. Or civilisation.