The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School is a leader in the study of the law and policy around the Internet and other emerging technologies.
Whether and when communications platforms like Google, Twitter and Facebook are liable for their users’ online activities is one of the key factors that affects innovation and free speech. Most creative expression today takes place over communications networks owned by private companies. Governments around the world increasingly press intermediaries to block their users’ undesirable online content in order to suppress dissent, hate speech, privacy violations and the like. One form of pressure is to make communications intermediaries legally responsible for what their users do and say. Liability regimes that put platform companies at legal risk for users’ online activity are a form of censorship-by-proxy, and thereby imperil both free expression and innovation, even as governments seek to resolve very real policy problems.
In the United States, the core doctrines of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have allowed these online intermediary platforms user generated content to flourish. But, immunities and safe harbors for intermediaries are under threat in the U.S. and globally as governments seek to deputize intermediaries to assist in law enforcement.
To contribute to this important policy debate, CIS studies international approaches to intermediary obligations concerning users’ copyright infringement, defamation, hate speech or other vicarious liabilities, immunities, or safe harbors; publishes a repository of information on international liability regimes and works with global platforms and free expression groups to advocate for policies that will protect innovation, freedom of expression, privacy and other user rights.
Lately, politicians and news sources have been repeating a persistent myth about, of all things, technology law. The myth concerns a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, generally known as Section 230 or CDA 230. Read more about The stubborn, misguided myth that Internet platforms must be ‘neutral’
In recent years, lawmakers around the world have proposed a lot of new intermediary liability (IL) laws. Many have been miscalibrated – risking serious collateral damage without necessarily using the best means to advance lawmakers’ goals. That shouldn’t be a surprise. IL isn’t like tax law or farm subsidies. Lawmakers, particularly in the United States, haven’t thought much about IL in decades.
Tighter regulation of social media and other online services in now under discussion in several European countries, as well as in the UK where the government has released a white paper outlining its proposed approach to tackling online harm. Read more about Germany proposes Europe’s first diversity rules for social media platforms