Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

There has been a lot of debate not just in Australia but around the world about how much liability content publishers have for comments (including tweets, posts, whatever) that appear on their sites. The publishers like to argue that they are 'common carriers', like the phone company, and merely platforms. In places like the United States, they are protected by a law called 'section 230', which gives them the right to moderate content, but doesn't require them to. Some pundits, like Jeff Jarvis, call it "the 26 words that created the internet". So if Facebook (say) is not responsible, who is? How about the news organizations that create Facebook pages? In Australia, companies even pay a 'tax' for news content. Or are they protected by the same common carrier provision? That's what this article is about.

I can see why people defend the law. It removes most of the risk of publishing online for everyone. People who could never dream of publishing now had a platform, whether it was Blogger, Facebook or TikTok. But it also created a system in which nobody was responsible for content, with the resulting ocean of invective and disinformation we see online today. I wonder what sort of internet we would have if (a) each person or company were legally responsible for whatever appeared on their site, but  (b) each could actually have their own site, and (c) there were legal protections and mechanisms to prevent expensive trials and lawsuits (in other words, justice for everyone, not just those who can afford it). Pie in the sky, I know. But I wonder.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada
stephen@downes.ca

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Last Updated: Feb 27, 2024 2:46 p.m.

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