Josh Slovin

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In 1989, the “world wide web” launched in the public domain, creating what we call today the “internet.” However, the internet was slow to catch on. In 1996, there were only 20 million American users on the internet. As the adoption of the internet by Americans slowly increased so did the development of internet websites and internet services. The United States Congress quickly began to see the pitfalls of the internet unfolding before its own eyes. In effect, the internet created a new venue for the dissemination of defamatory and elicit content.

Beginning in 1991, litigation commenced when individuals sought to hold internet website providers liable for content created or posted by third-parties. Courts seemingly struggled in assessing liability on the part of the internet website provider, which led to courts offering conflicting approaches and judgments. The spreading of false and elicit content online, in combination with contrasting court judgments, led Congress to pass the Communications Decency Act (CDA) as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Included within the CDA are several provisions now referred to as “Section 230,” codified at 47 U.S.C. §230, which grants immunity to providers of interactive computer services (ICSP) from liability as “publishers” with respect to third-party content appearing on their websites. While Congress envisioned § 230as a way to promote the continued development of the Internet by giving “Good Samaritan” ICSPs the authority to self-regulate third-party content posted on its websites and immunity from any resulting liability, in effect “Bad Samaritan” ICSPs have also benefited from§230’s immunity. As such, courts have struggled to balance the legislative purpose of § 230 with the legislative text, which has often created differing and controversial judgments.