What Problem Are We Trying To Solve?

Pro-Publica has an excellent interview with Jeff Kosseff, the author of The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet, a book about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Those 26 words are:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

In the Pro-Publica interview, Jeff makes a fantastic point:

I think it’s possible to reform Section 230. But there are a few barriers. First, we haven’t agreed on what the problem is. There are very different conceptions of what is wrong. Half of Washington thinks that there should be more moderation and that the platforms should be more restrictive. The other half thinks that the platforms need to be less restrictive, and in many cases say they shouldn’t do any moderation at all.

Also there’s this: If you’re saying that there should be more moderation and less harmful content, the big problem with that is that we still have the First Amendment.

With elected officials all clamoring to enact Section 230 reform, we are in for a mess if we don’t start with the problem we are trying to solve. I have not yet heard any elected official or staffer clearly articulate what exactly they want to achieve with Section 230 reform, except to earn political points with people who don’t actually understand the issue very well, like the New York Times.

This point, again made my Jeff, expresses my personal fears about Section 230 reform:

Both sides are to a certain extent under the illusion if you got rid of Section 230, that would magically fix all of their problems.

I worry that the compromise is going to be this jumbled-together mess of a bill that does not make any sense.

In my view Section 230 is sort of like what Winston Churchill said about democracy:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Section 230 is certainly problematic in many ways. But when you sit down and really think about alternatives, it becomes clear that it is better than any alternatives that have been suggested.