What Section 230 Says: 47 U.S. Code § 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Section 230 balances free expression and online safety. It enables content moderation and protects the screening of offensive material.
To quote its co-author Sen. Wyden, Section 230 was a law he thought “had a sword and a shield. The shield was to make sure that you could get off to the races without getting legally tied up online. The sword was so that these new platforms could go after really gross stuff.”
But what does this law actually say?

Law’s Text:

Text’s Meaning:

A. The Congress finds the following:

A. Congress said:

(1) The rapidly developing array of Internet and other interactive computer services available to individual Americans represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to our citizens.

(1) The internet is a very useful resource to everyday Americans to access information.

(2) These services offer users a great degree of control over the information that they receive, as well as the potential for even greater control in the future as technology develops.

(2) These internet services give users control over what they want to do online.

(3) The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.

(3) The internet enables all sorts of conversations to occur and communities to thrive.

(4) The Internet and other interactive computer services have flourished, to the benefit of all Americans, with a minimum of government regulation.

(4) The internet has thrived because the government barely regulated it.

(5) Increasingly Americans are relying on interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.

(5) Americans are using the internet more and more

B. Policy

It is the policy of the United States —

B. America’s policy is —

(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media;

(1) to promote the continued growth of the internet and digital services that rely on it;

(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;

(2) to promote free enterprise online;

(3) to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services;

(3) to encourage user-focused development of user-friendly controls (think parental controls)

(4) to remove disincentives for the development and utilization of blocking and filtering technologies that empower parents to restrict their children’s access to objectionable or inappropriate online material; and

(4) to encourage websites to make the internet family-friendly

(5) to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer.

(5) to prevent bad actors from using the internet for illegal purposes

C. Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

C. Protect good samaritans who try to keep the internet clean

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(1) Websites and digital platforms are not legally responsible for what their users create and post.

(2) Civil liability
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—

(2) Websites will not be held responsible for:

(a) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—

(a) Removing content that they believe is too bad, gross, ugly, or evil for a user-friendly experience

(b) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

(b) or any actions that allow websites to moderate user-generate content that they think is bad, gross, ugly, or evil

D. Obligations of interactive computer service

D. Obligations of these platforms

A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.

These websites must alert parents of any tools or services that may help parents keep these digital platforms family-friendly.

E. Effect on other laws

E. How Section 230 interacts with other laws

(1) No effect on criminal law
Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 or 231 of this title, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of title 18, or any other Federal criminal statute.

(1) Federal criminal law applies to websites and digital platforms the same way it applies to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

(2) No effect on intellectual
property law
Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.

(2) Intellectual property law (think copyrights) still applies to websites and digital platforms. If a user uploads copyrighted material and the website fails to remove it, the website can be held responsible.

(3) State law
Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any State from enforcing any State law that is consistent with this section. No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.

(3) States can apply their laws to internet platforms so long as they are consistent with federal law.

(4) No effect on communications privacy law
Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the application of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 or any of the amendments made by such Act, or any similar State law

(4) Section 230 does not affect the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

(5) No effect on sex trafficking law
Nothing in this section (other than subsection (c)(2)(A)) shall be construed to impair or limit—

(5) Section 230 does not affect any of the legal claims with regards to sex trafficking:

(a) any claim in a civil action brought under section 1595 of title 18, if the conduct underlying the claim constitutes a violation of section 1591 of that title;

(a) lawsuits against websites or internet platforms for violating federal law and enabling the sex trafficking of children

(b) any charge in a criminal prosecution brought under State law if the conduct underlying the charge would constitute a violation of section 2421A of title 18, and promotion or facilitation of prostitution is illegal in the jurisdiction where the defendant’s promotion or facilitation of prostitution was targeted

(b) state criminal charges of conduct that is also illegal under federal criminal law like prostitution.

F. Definitions as used in this section:

(1) Internet
The term “Internet” means the international computer network of both Federal and non-Federal interoperable packet switched data networks.

(2) Interactive computer service
The term “interactive computer service” means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

(3) Information content provider
The term “information content provider” means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

(4) Access software provider
The term “access software provider” means a provider of software (including client or server software), or enabling tools that do any one or more of the following:
(a) filter, screen, allow, or disallow content;
(b) pick, choose, analyze, or digest content; or
(c) transmit, receive, display, forward, cache, search, subset, organize, reorganize, or translate content.