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.
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
The Internet was going to set us all free. At least, that is what U.S. policy makers, pundits, and scholars believed in the 2000s. The Internet would undermine authoritarian rulers by reducing the government’s stranglehold on debate, helping oppressed people realize how much they all hated their government, and simply making it easier and cheaper to organize protests. Read more about Democracy's Dilemma
When Facebook started 15 years ago, it didn’t set out to adjudicate the speech rights of 2.2 billion people. Twitter never asked to decide which of the 500 million tweets posted each day are jokes and which are hate speech. YouTube’s early mission wasn’t to determine if a video shot on someone’s phone is harmless speculation, dangerous conspiracy theory, or information warfare by a foreign government. Content platforms set out to get rid of expression’s gatekeepers, not become them. Read more about Your Speech, Their Rules: Meet the People Who Guard the Internet