In this report, and through a series of events in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2019, Engine and the Charles Koch Institute sought to unpack the nuts and bolts of content moderation. We examined what everyday content moderation looks like for Internet platforms and the legal framework that makes that moderation possible, debunked myths about content moderation, and asked attendees to put themselves in the shoes of content moderators.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been privy to the ire of politicians at both ends of the political spectrum in recent weeks. That misplaced bipartisan disdain isn’t limited to the 1996 law, however. As the USMCA approaches formal consideration in Congress, attacks on the agreement’s Article 19.17, which mirrors the language of Section 230, have ramped up as well.
In a Ways and Means Committee hearing on trade policy earlier this month, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) showed clear animus towards the article in a terse exchange with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Running over her time, the congresswoman asked why the U.S. intermediary liability rules were included in the agreement, saying she had “significant concerns regarding the USTR’s stance on CDA 230.” Ambassador Lighthizer defended the CDA 230-like language, saying “it’s U.S. law” and that the digital trade chapter is “a way for small internet companies to grow and use their advantages.”
The Ambassador is right. Article 19.17—and the digital trade chapter of the USMCA—will lead to greater innovation domestically and among our trading partners. As Santa Clara Law School professor and leading Section 230 scholar Eric Goldman points out in a letter signed by Engine, Article 19.17 is critical to this end because it lowers barriers, strengthens markets, and advances liberty.
Immunity for content generated by third parties on their platforms allows startups can get off the ground without exposure to potentially crippling lawsuits. It facilitates consumer trust by enabling third-party reviews, a hallmark of Internet commerce that would not exist without such protections. Finally, Article 19.17 expands free speech opportunities through increased access to platforms.
Unfortunately, Rep. Sánchez isn't alone in her criticism of the liability rules. Her Republican colleagues, Reps. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.), also oppose Article 19.17, attacking the U.S. liability rules that have fostered the internet we know today.
The House Democrats’ nine-member working group is focused on reconciling their issues with the USMCA in four areas: drug pricing, enforcement, labor, and the environment. While it appears unlikely that agreement will come to a vote with just 12 work days left before Congress enters its six-week recess, that list of issues need not be expanded. Going forward, the USMCA doesn't need another roadblock. Especially not one that needlessly picks apart the novel and innovation-advancing digital trade chapter.
Current legal frameworks have allowed us to build creative online communities that have enabled musicians, writers, artists, developers, designers, and filmmakers throughout Europe to access a global online market. We are concerned that proposed changes to the European Copyright Directive, specifically Article 13, will threaten the existence of these vibrant online communities.
The following can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom:
"We applaud Sen. Wyden's work to address some of our concerns with this legislation. We all support efforts to stop sex trafficking, but it is important to do so in a way that doesn't create unintended consequences for smaller internet companies that feature user-generated content. Sen. Wyden's amendments would help clarify that companies honestly engaging in content moderation won't face unexpected or unfair liability. That would make it substantially easier for platforms to proactively contribute to the fight against sex trafficking without fear of negative consequences."
Engine's statement following the announcement from the House Committee on Rules to consider H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) on Monday, February 26th and the proposed amendment by Rep. Walters to include language from the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA)
Tomorrow, our Executive Director Evan Engstrom will testify in front of a House subcommittee about the importance of a foundational Internet law and efforts to fight sex trafficking online.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on a new bill aimed at making it easier to penalize websites and online services that facilitate sex-trafficking.
While much of the hearing focused on the bipartisan and unanimous agreement that sex-trafficking is a tragedy that needs to be addressed, some lawmakers and witnesses noted the potential unintended consequences of the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (S.1693) as currently drafted.
As the Senate begins to consider the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 "SESTA," we have have tried to debunk some of the myths the bill's sponsors are saying about the legislation. Learn more about what you can do to protect Section 230 here.