In this week’s episode of All Things Legal, Craig Ashton discussed the broad and outdated guidelines of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) that have since allowed for defamatory statements and the solicitation of illegal acts to have a place on public websites.
The CDA was initially installed to prevent minor’s access to the pornographic material; however, civil rights groups and free speech advocates were quick to fight the act’s limitations to a person’s first amendment right of free speech.
The issue now is that the protection of free speech on the internet makes it harder to hold public websites accountable for their content. Under the CDA, websites have immunity from prosecution and are not responsible for the content that their user’s post.
Craig Ashton discussed a personal issue with the guidelines of the CDA. Not too long ago, an entirely false and inaccurate review of their law firm was posted on the website Yelp. When they confronted Yelp and asked that the defamatory review to be taken down, Yelp denied them their request. Yelp was not accountable under the communications decency act. Basically, it was not their problem. Businesses are now struggling to defend themselves against defamatory statements made on public websites like Yelp.
The CDA also works in opposition when trying to clear websites of soliciting prostitution and child sex trafficking. The most recent incident involves the website Backpage. The multi-billion dollar website features classified ads for anything from refrigerators to automobiles to child prostitution. Backpage is fighting hard against the accusations of soliciting child prostitution, and they are winning. While there is no doubt that the ads are present on their website, the CDA has aided in their protection and has continuously provided them with immunity for their content.
So how can we hold these websites protected by the CDA accountable?
A petition has been made to revise Section 230 of the communications decency act. The revision would require host sites to remove defamatory, injurious, and/or illegal content from their site within an appropriate amount of time when given notice that this content exists. While the CDA was originally proposed to foster the growth of the internet and protect the immunity of third-party providers. However, websites have taken advantage of the act and used it to profit without accountability. The internet has evolved. To protect businesses from defamatory and/or false content, the law must evolve as well.
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