Unregulating Online Harassment

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Media and Content

Article Snapshot


Eric Goldman


Denver University Law Review Online, Vol. 87, pp. 59-61, 2010


Websites and online actors are immune from liability for user-generated content and this has entrepreneurial benefits.

Policy Relevance

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity, which may result in facilitation of online harassment. However, the negative implications of non-regulation are offset by the boon to entrepreneurial activity that has resulted.

Main Points

  • Online harassment is a tricky subject. It is often difficult to pinpoint:

    • what exactly defines online harassment;
    • how to deal with unidentified harassers;
    • how online harassment is different from off-line harassment;
    • when to regulate harassment in the technological cycle;
    • who to apply legal responsibility to.
  • Section 230 was adopted in 1996 and provides immunity to websites and other online actors, which allows websites to tolerate harassing behavior or delete information that would allow online harassers to be uncovered.
  • The immunity granted by Congress was not an oversight, but a clear grant of non-regulation on an industry.
  • The dot-com boom soon followed section 230 and the entrepreneurial activity that resulted has continued
    and made the United States one of the global leaders in User Generated Content (UGC).
  • Section 230 is a broad rule with only three exceptions; there is no immunity for intellectual property, federal crimes, or Electronic Communications Privacy Act violations.
  • Critics often call for another exception for their own narrowly defined concern. However, these calls for amendment to Section 230 ought to be viewed warily because the clarity and simplicity of Section 230 make it evenly applied and bolster certainty. Moreover, the simplicity of Section 230 allows websites to ignore meritless claim letters. These benefits could be undermined by even a small tweak to Section 230.
  • Education might provide a better alternative or substitute for changes to Section 230. Internet users who are trained in recognizing bullying and refusing to tolerate it may self-police better than an exception to 230 would.

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