What is ? 230 The Internet Act

Twitter vs Trump: Attack on "the world's most important internet law"

The operators of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube should in future largely keep their hands off the contributions of their users. Above all, fact checks and own assessments of content should be taboo according to the will of the US President. The corresponding decree by Donald Trump not only had consequences for the platforms concerned, but also triggered an expert debate in Germany.

Even if a discussion about the admissibility of fact checks has started in this country on the basis of a ruling by the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court, such counter-statements to controversial posts in Europe should continue to be allowed and also desired by the EU Commission in the fight against disinformation, for example around the Corona crisis Dortmund media lawyer Tobias Gostomzyk explains: "That is why there could also be a transatlantic collision here."

More restrictive EU law

"In purely material terms, the ruling contradicts the prevailing approaches in Europe in terms of the right of expression and the more restrictive regulation of harmful content," says Stephan Dreyer from the Hamburg Leibniz Institute for Media Research, alias Hans Bredow Institute: Compared to the USA, the EU legal framework already works from a further restriction of free speech.

According to Dreyer, this contrast is likely to worsen with the Trump initiative. The decree creates "a brutal incentive system": Platforms could not be prosecuted if they simply left all user-generated content "alone". Exceptions to this principle still apply, for example, to content that is inadmissible under criminal law or that is protected by copyright. But for all other forms of statements that are questionable, disinforming, manipulative or propagandistic, it would be better for providers in the future to "leave everything online unchanged".

"Free Speech" doctrine

"This corresponds to one of the more radical views of the US 'free speech' doctrine," explains the media researcher. The widely discussed measures against hateful comments, misinformation, manipulative statements and propaganda, which are repeatedly brought into play, especially in Europe, should therefore no longer appear "attractive" to the operator. If the platforms no longer support appropriate approaches such as "fact checking offers, labeling of dubious statements, deletions or downranking", such controversial content could find an even larger audience.

The spectrum of political opinion currently moves between two alternatives, states Dreyer: "Do we want the state to take the reins again and to dictate to providers with strong laws what is legally possible and what is not?" That would go hand in hand with a departure from the previous liability privileges of the platforms. Or should the decision-making process on the part of the operator be more legally shaped and controlled "in order to prevent arbitrariness and secure basic rights?"

The EU Commission is likely to speak out in favor of this second regulatory approach with the draft of a "Digital Services Act" expected at the end of the year. For the media scientist, with a view to disinformation, "there is also the fundamental question of who should decide what is true and what is false. It is a struggle for interpretative sovereignty over socially shared knowledge."

Dreyer's Bredow colleague Matthias Kettemann points out that with "Section 230 CDA" the "most important Internet law in the world" is at least about to be reinterpreted. The section exempts providers from liability for the publication of user-generated content. If Trump tried to forbid Twitter & Co. to comment on his content, the platforms could go over to "delete his tweets entirely". With that the president would have covered his paper, however, since Twitter has treated him "far better" than other users so far.

"Far-reaching privileges"

Stuttgart-based media lawyer Tobias Keber considers it undisputed that the "originally far-reaching privileges" granted to providers require adjustments in view of technical developments, for example through the use of algorithms in the prioritization of displayed content. The exemption from liability is also an important instrument "which is of central importance for the development of the Internet as a free communication space". Reforms must therefore "be carried out with sufficient sensitivity for the complex network of fundamental rights that encompasses the problem".

The US civil rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) described the order as an "attack on freedom of expression" on the Internet. Michael Abramowitz of the civil society organization Freedom House advised the president to stay away from the CDA. The protective provisions contained therein guaranteed that users could express themselves freely within the lawful framework and that companies could delete "banned content" if necessary.

Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) criticized that Trump wanted to make the regulatory authority the "voice police of the president", which is not a solution to the problems of the industry. Facebook warned that the plan for the platform could also mean cracking down on more posts instead of fewer. Google complained that a hollowed out CDA will "harm America's economy and its global leadership in internet freedom." (vbr)

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