Coalition Of Internet Companies Who Are Decidedly Not ‘Big Tech’ Raise Their Voices About The Importance Of Section 230

from the good-for-them dept

A few weeks ago we noted that smaller, but still important, internet companies were working to get in the room on the discussions regarding Section 230 in Congress. The issue is that, among many in Congress and the media, they believe (falsely) that Section 230 is some sort of subsidy “only for Big Tech.” As we’ve pointed out many times, the opposite is true. Facebook and Google have giant legal teams who can handle the liability without 230. It’s everyone else who is screwed. This is why Facebook has always been first in line to undermine Section 230.

As you’ll recall, Facebook was the key cog to fold and support FOSTA, pressuring the Internet Association to support the law, and allowing Congress to claim (falsely) that “tech” supported the law. Right after that happened I remember talking to some of the smaller members of the Internet Association who were absolutely livid about the situation, and how they felt that Facebook and IA completely threw them under the bus to cement Facebook’s own position in the market.

With the fight over 230 heating up again it looks like a bunch of those companies have decided not to make the same mistake again. They’ve started a new organization, called Internet.Works to advocate on issues around 230. The coalition is made up of a bunch of important and successful internet companies, all of whom rely on Section 230, but who are not Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Apple. Instead, it’s Automattic (the WordPress guys), Cloudflare, Dropbox, eBay, Etsy, Glassdoor, GoDaddy, Medium, Nextdoor, Patreon, Pinterest, Reddit, Snap, TripAdvisor, Vimeo, and Wikimedia.

The organization is clearly set up to be a counterbalance to Facebook’s ability to completely undermine 230 for everyone else:

“These well-known internet companies and nonprofits launched Internet Works to elevate the voice of stakeholders across the digital economy and work with policymakers to preserve the benefits of Section 230, the foundational internet law that enables the United States to lead the world in innovation and robust job growth in the technology sector,” said Josh Ackil, Spokesperson for Internet Works. “Internet Works members rely on CDA 230 to make their platforms safe for users and support free expression. This coalition brings new voices and diverse perspectives to Washington’s current Section 230 debate, which too often focuses on the largest internet platforms.”

Internet Works and its members represent different corners of the Internet ecosystem, and rely heavily on Section 230 to act responsibly to protect users and compete in their respective markets. In working with policymakers in Washington, the coalition will work to preserve the benefits of Section 230 for consumers and the internet ecosystem and promote the competition, diversity, and user choice in technology and services that this provision provides.

The group has also put out a “myths & facts about Section 230” document that is quite good and acts as a much less snarky version of my 230 myth debunker.

MYTH: Section 230 primarily helps large social media platforms.

FACT: Section 230 protects internet sites and users by providing a legal basis for organizations of all shapes and sizes to moderate content. It prevents internet service providers (ISPs), internet sites of all sizes, and users from being held liable for objectionable content posted by other users. Section 230 doesn’t just apply to social media platforms.

It also protects online services that provide volunteer community moderation, such as message boards, as well as other organizations including PTAs, schools and libraries. Without the protection Section 230 provides, many of these organizations could face crippling lawsuits over user-posted content.

Unfortunately, only the largest corporations or organizations could withstand the possible wave of litigation over user-posted content which could occur if Section 230 is weakened or repealed.

The group does say that it supports “a unified approach to reform” which has had some worried that they were caving in as well, but the group is saying all the right things regarding the important benefits of 230. And it’s (stupidly and unfortunately) probably necessary for them to say they’re open to reform to even get a seat at the table. This is, of course, dumb that they have to say that, but because all of DC has decided (incorrectly) that 230 is the problem, not admitting that is being (falsely) seen as evidence that you’re “not willing to discuss.”

An article in Bloomberg notes that basically the rest of the internet industry is pissed off at Facebook and recognizes the company’s willingness to throw the open internet under the bus to maintain its market position (while also claiming to be “responsive” to Congress’s misplaced anger).

There is “a real myopia among legislators of only thinking of Facebook and Google” as they consider bills to address online hosting, said Emma Llanso, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a policy group. “That is a real concern for smaller websites and applications, because they do not have the resources these larger companies do.”

It will be worth watching what happens with this new coalition, but it’s important that their voices get heard by those in Congress (and the media) who keep insisting that Section 230 only benefits Google and Facebook.

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Filed Under: 230 reform, coalition, fosta, intermediary liability, section 230Companies: facebook, internet association, internet works