Section 230 Reform: Breaking Down the Basics

Recently, Section 230 and social media content has come under scrutiny. Calls for reform have been widely heard, both in the political sphere and the advertising industry. Let’s break down the basics of Section 230—what it is, what it means for the internet, and what it means for marketing

What Is Section 230?

Section 230 is a provision of the Communications Decency Act that protects social media companies from lawsuits involving content posted by their users. Recently, politicians from both sides of the aisle have called for the provision to be reformed. The ongoing issue of misinformation on social media sites has caused widespread efforts to place a magnifying glass on Section 230.

In general, Section 230 reform proponents want more accountability for social media platforms that, they say, have relied on the law to avoid the issue for too long.

What Does This Mean for the Internet?

Lawmakers still aren’t convinced that social media sites are doing enough to combat rampant disinformation, despite numerous CEOs announcing efforts to fight back against false content on their sites.

Lawyers and media executives worry reforming the law could have unintended consequences, but tech leaders want it modified. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, commented, “Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

Any changes to—or even the elimination of—Section 230 would significantly impact social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, but there would also be ramifications for any website that features user reviews, such as Yelp and Airbnb. Content restrictions or manual reviews are two ways the social media experience could be altered.

What Does It Mean for Marketers?

According to Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM, “Anything a publisher can do to detoxify the platform makes more brands want to be there.”

Jamie Stewart, Director of Digital Media at GS&F, also weighs in. “Scrubbing platforms of hateful content will either open up inventory since brand safety standards can be made more lax, or it will shrink availability as more content is removed and users migrate,” he says. “Similar to Parler, either way brands will benefit from the resulting halo effect.”

That’s why publishers and advertisers are also pushing for Section 230 reform—an internet with more brand safety and accountability is inevitably good for marketers. However, expensive legal battles could disproportionately affect smaller publishers consolidating power with tech giants, because as this matter evolves it will be settled in the courtroom like any First Amendment topic.

What’s Next?

This will be a hot topic for marketers in the coming year as Congress develops what an update to Section 230 will truly look like. With many unknowns, brands can still prepare themselves by auditing their current social media placements. Social platforms will be the first affected by Section 230 reform, so each brand’s response should come from that angle. Be sure also to subscribe to the GS&F newsletter for updates.

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