Social Media Platforms

October 2, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 35
Should their legal protections be curtailed?
By Hannah H. Kim


Internet-based services enjoy broad legal protections over the third-party content they distribute, a safeguard offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Signed into law in 1996 when social media was in its infancy, Section 230 grants immunity to social media companies from virtually any form of civil litigation, including defamation, for third-party content on their platforms. The law also allows the companies to restrict content that violates their terms of service if they act in “good faith.” But as social media platforms' influence grows, critics across the political spectrum argue that Section 230 needs to be amended. Victims of online harassment say tech companies should be held accountable for violent or deceptive content they allow on their platforms. Some Republican lawmakers accuse social media companies of moderating user content with an anti-conservative bias. Yet free speech advocates argue that Section 230 is among the most valuable protections for free expression and innovation online. The result is a robust debate over whether Congress should weaken — or even eliminate — the protections offered by Section 230.

Photo shows Twitter and Facebook logos. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicolas Asfouri and Lionel Bonaventure)
Social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook are facing intense scrutiny about their role in controlling deceptive and dangerous content on their sites. While the companies enjoy broad legal protections, experts debate whether those should be revised in an age of misinformation. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicolas Asfouri and Lionel Bonaventure)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Journalism, Newspapers, and the Media
Jan. 28, 2022  Misinformation and the Media
Oct. 02, 2020  Social Media Platforms
Sep. 18, 2020  The News Media
Aug. 24, 2018  Conspiracy Theories
Jun. 09, 2017  Trust in Media
May 30, 2014  Digital Journalism
May 03, 2013  Media Bias
Apr. 26, 2013  Free Speech at Risk
Apr. 12, 2013  Combat Journalism
Nov. 2010  Press Freedom
Oct. 08, 2010  Journalism Standards in the Internet Age
Feb. 05, 2010  Press Freedom
Mar. 27, 2009  Future of Journalism Updated
Jun. 09, 2006  Blog Explosion Updated
Jan. 20, 2006  Future of Newspapers
Apr. 08, 2005  Free-Press Disputes
Oct. 15, 2004  Media Bias
Oct. 10, 2003  Media Ownership Updated
Dec. 25, 1998  Journalism Under Fire
Jun. 05, 1998  Student Journalism
Sep. 20, 1996  Civic Journalism
Sep. 23, 1994  Courts and the Media
Aug. 24, 1990  Hard Times at the Nation's Newspapers
Jan. 19, 1990  Finding Truth in the Age of ‘Infotainment’
Aug. 18, 1989  Libel Law: Finding the Right Balance
Jun. 06, 1986  Magazine Trends
Oct. 12, 1984  News Media and Presidential Campaigns
Jul. 15, 1983  State of American Newspapers
Oct. 23, 1981  High Cost of Libel
Dec. 23, 1977  Media Reforms
Mar. 11, 1977  News Media Ownership
Jun. 21, 1974  Access to the Media
Dec. 20, 1972  Newsmen's Rights
Aug. 16, 1972  Blacks in the News Media
Dec. 15, 1971  Magazine Industry Shake-Out
Jul. 18, 1969  Competing Media
Sep. 02, 1964  Politicians and the Press
Dec. 04, 1963  Libel Suits and Press Freedom
Jan. 09, 1963  Newspaper Mergers
Dec. 20, 1961  Reading Boom: Books and Magazines
Dec. 02, 1959  Privileged Communications
Apr. 25, 1956  Newsprint Deficit
May 06, 1953  Government and the Press
Sep. 21, 1948  Press and State
Sep. 05, 1947  Newsprint Supply
Mar. 26, 1947  Facsimile Newspapers
Dec. 10, 1945  World Press Freedom
May 01, 1940  New Experiments in Newspaper-Making
Nov. 04, 1933  Press Freedom Under the Recovery Program
Congress Actions
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Freedom of Information
General International Relations
General Social Trends
Global Issues
Internet and Social Media
Journalism and the News
Party Politics
Popular Culture
Protest Movements
Regional Political Affairs: Russia and the Former Soviet Union
Regulation and Deregulation
Regulation and Legal Issues
Telecommunications and Wireless Technologies