After months of hearings, our U.S. Congress recently took steps to close the loophole that currently makes it legal for internet businesses like BackPage.com to advertise and sell children for sex.
This positive action by Congress to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was met with immediate opposition by Google and other well-funded tech company lobbyists. We should all be outraged. The tech industry’s opposition to any attempt to tweak Section 230 is not driven by free speech concerns; it is driven by the same motivating factor that drives companies like Backpage.com to facilitate sex trafficking—profit
THE FACTS: While Backpage.com (“Backpage”) is the largest online platform where sex trafficking victims are bought and sold, it certainly is not the only platform. If Backpage principals are criminally prosecuted and the website shuts down, another site will fill this space and likely will not filter content at all. The current legal interpretation of Section 230 has created an atmosphere where bad actors like Backpage can operate with minimal risk and high profits. Other companies will quickly continue to fill this space. The business model, not Backpage, is the reason that amending Section 230 is so essential.
THE FACTS: There is an urgent need to amend Section 230 because of the 1st Circuit, in Doe v. Backpage, recently found that even if Backpage had participated in criminal activity, its conduct was protected from the claims of children who had been sold on its site. Indeed, the court advised the children to seek a legislative remedy because Section 230 was in conflict with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. While some tech companies are now publicly calling for Backpage to be prosecuted in federal court, this is in stark contrast to their private actions in support of Backpage. The Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other organizations representing technology companies have vigorously and consistently intervened in Backpage 2 cases, including those filed by children, to support the position and claims of Backpage that Section 230 protects its operations
THE FACTS: The primary purpose of Section 230 was to protect a fledgling Internet industry from legal fees related to defamation claims based on third party content, not to preserve free speech. Now, profits, rather than speech, are what is driving the debate. Courts have consistently interpreted and expanded Section 230 far beyond its original intent, to protect not only “irrational free speech” (e.g. revenge porn, snuff film sites, and other types of malicious speech) but actual criminal conduct.
THE FACTS: Section 230 was never intended to convey Teflon-like blanket immunity to sites engaged in meretriciousactivity. In 1996, it was enacted in response to a $200 million dollar defamation suit filed by Stratton Oakmont (the Jordan Belfort/Wolf of Wall Street firm) against Prodigy (an Internet billboard) for failing to remove a comment which accused Stratton Oakmont of stock manipulation. The court ruled against Prodigy. Congress responded by enacting Section 230 at a time when there was no way for new Internet sites to manage large amounts of data. Congress aimed to protect these new sites from multiple defamation claims as long as these sites were, in good faith, filtering or moderating content. At the time, Congress elected to treat online publishers differently from offline publishers, which enjoy no Section 230 protection. However, because of inconsistent language contained in Section 230, courts have interpreted the statute to protect not only good faith filtering, but all third-party content (whether or not filtering occurs). This was never the intent. Technology has outpaced our legal framework with harm never contemplated back in 1996. Thus, Section 230 must be calibrated in light of decisions by courts to protect “Bad Samaritans” (hosting of illegal commercial sex; revenge porn; and the like) as well as actual criminal conduct.
THE FACTS: Civil liability for all online entities that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking will have no impact on self-regulating, good faith actors. Further, the proposed legislation preserves the Good Samaritan clause, which provides a safe harbor for good actors who filter content in good faith.
THE FACTS: This is false. Most legitimate tech companies have embraced self-policing and will continue to do so. However, for bad actors like Backpage, Section 230 has allowed the Wild West of the Internet to proliferate with no incentive to keep the dark side of technology at bay.
Turn your outrage into action. Contact your congressional representatives via email, phone or letter to let them know you want Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act amended as soon as possible to stop the “legal” selling of children for sex on the internet. To find your member of Congress, go to www.govtrack.us/congress/members.
You can also Join the conversation on Twitter using #CDA230
*The myths above were originally published in a Joint Statement by the ” I am Jane Doe” Film creators. You can read the full statement HERE