Monday, December 14, 2020

Section 230 Lessons from Pornhub's Retreat

Under pressure from Visa and MasterCard, pornhub, the world's largest porn empire, has abruptly taken the majority of its videos offline, under pressure because its unvetted user-supplied videos included depictions of terrible crimes.

It's long overdue for porn sites to take responsibility for user-uploaded atrocities.  But pressuring Pornhub on this issue is only feasible due to the near-universal condemnation of the content, the relatively clear-cut criteria for banning content, and the reality that Visa and MasterCard are the global porn police. 

Most other content disputes, however, can’t so easily reach consensus on questions of clarity, morality, and practicality.  That’s why we have section 230.  Without section 230, almost any content provider (particularly social media) would be vulnerable to legal challenges not just over explicit and clearly illegal depictions of rape and child pornography, but over nearly any kind of content dispute, initiated by nearly anyone, in nearly any venue, and nearly always without recourse to an all-powerful enforcement authority.

Content providers would inevitably become more lawsuit-averse.  One might imagine that the legal burdens of a 230-free world might tend to drive out extremes and nudge our discourse back to a happier centrism. But unfortunately, in the legal arena it's likely that the "center" would be defined largely by wealth and power, among other things.  The most marginalized voices would have the least room even to express their views in public.

What kinds of content might dwindle in a world without section 230?

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