Tuesday, September 03, 2013

CA bill (SB255) against "revenge" libel could interact with states' proposals to weaken Section 230

NBC News is reporting that the California “revenge porn” bill (website url SB255) is likely to attract attention in other states, with link here.  Note that the CA bill is an extension of an already existing law. 

I was aware that people sometimes go after others on Facebook or other well-known platforms.  People have been damaged, of course;  and major providers like Facebook and YouTube will remove materials a TOS violations despite technical Section 230 protection.   Typically, most discussion forum moderators will remove personal attacks also, and generally can do so without being viewed as “editing” and weakening Section 230 immunity.

Another issue, according to the NBC story, is the presence of “revenge” sites like “Is Anyone Up?”.  Anderson Cooper had looked at this sort of problem with the discussion of an “STD Carriers” website as I discussed here March 12, 2012. 

One can connect the dots and suppose that a state criminalizes a service provider who knowingly abets “revenge libel” – to shut down sites specifically set up for revenge, cyberbullying, to disclose private medical information, to traffic in underage prostitutes, to sell illegal drugs, and a variety of other normally objectionable purposes.  State attorneys general will say that they need the Section 230 “exception” (to allow prosecution of service providers under state criminal codes) to enforce these.  It will provoke a troubling argument, as to whether there is a slippery slope or chilling effect. 
It certainly sounds as though the self-distribution of free speech on the Web is put in jeopardy if there is an overriding public purpose in protecting the vulnerable from the worst actions of the few, when “free speech” of many doesn’t seem to carry compelling standard unless there is “responsibility for others” to go with the speech.

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