New Study Of 500 Section 230 Decisions Shows The Law’s Broad Benefits
“Section 230’s value is best demonstrated by the cases that escape the headlines. As Congress examines the law, it’s important to look at the whole picture”Elizabeth Banker, IA Deputy General Counsel
Washington, DC – Internet Association (IA) today released the results of a study of more than 500 Section 230 decisions over the past two decades. The study, one of the first to holistically examine the body of Section 230 case law, shows that the law is working as intended. IA analyzed more than 500 decisions from the past two decades involving Section 230 in order to better understand, in practice, the variety of parties using the law, how the law is being used, and how courts apply it.
“Section 230’s value is best demonstrated by the cases that escape the headlines,” said IA Deputy General Counsel Elizabeth Banker. “As Congress examines the law, it’s important to look at the whole picture. Section 230 is not the blanket immunity it is sometimes portrayed as. The law is only the primary basis for a court’s ruling in about 40 percent of decisions. In fact, judges dismissed almost thirty percent of the decisions we reviewed without applying Section 230 because the cases lacked merit, or for other reasons.”
Key findings from the report include:
- Section 230 protects a wide cross-section of individuals and entities. The law has been quietly protecting local soccer parent discussion forums, nursing messaging boards, and local newspapers from liability for comment trolls for more than two decades.
- Section 230 does not function as a “blanket immunity” in the courts. Section 230 immunity was only the primary basis for a court’s ruling in 42 percent of decisions reviewed. Courts rigorously analyzed the allegations and facts to determine Section 230 applicability. Many cases were dismissed for reasons other than Section 230, including (1) a flaw in the underlying claim; (2) a party not supporting an element of a claim with facts, even when the court allowed for the complaint to be amended; and (3) a lack of government action to restrain speech under the First Amendment.
- Defamation is the most common claim brought under Section 230. Of the decisions reviewed, approximately 43 percent involved a defamation claim, just like in Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, the case that spurred Congress to pass Section 230.
- Section 230’s “good samaritan” provision is rarely relied upon in court to justify a provider’s content moderation decision. Only 19 of 516 decisions reviewed, depended on Section 230’s “good samaritan” provision (subsection c(2)), and most of these cases concerned a provider’s efforts to block spam. Company moderation decisions are protected by the First Amendment.
- Congress should undertake a full review of cases involving Section 230. This case review provides important insights into Section 230’s application in the courts, but covers only a limited sample of cases. Congress should undertake a full review of the case law before considering legislation to amend Section 230.
To read a 1-page summary of the report, click here.
To read the full report click here.