16 Minutes on the News #32: Section 230, Content Moderation, Free Speech, the Internet

In this special “2x” episode (#32) of our news show 16 Minutes — where we quickly cover the headlines and tech trends, offering analysis, frameworks, explainers, and more — we cover the tricky but important topic of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The 1996 law has been in the headlines a lot recently, in the context of Twitter, the president’s tweets, and an executive order put out by the White House just this week on quote- “preventing online censorship”. All of this is playing out against the broader, more profound cultural context and events around the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and beyond, and ongoing old-new debates around content moderation on social media.

To make sense of only the technology and policy aspects of Section 230 specifically — and where the First Amendment, content moderation, and more come in — a16z host Sonal Chokshi brings on our first-ever outside guest for 16 Minutes, Mike Masnick, founder of the digital-native policy think tank Copia Institute and editor of the longtime news & analysis site Techdirt.com (which also features an online symposium for experts discussing difficult policy topics). Masnick has written extensively about these topics — not just recently but for years — along with others in media recently attempting to explain what’s going on and dissect what the executive order purports to do (some are even tracking different versions as well).

So what’s hype/ what’s real — given this show’s throughline! — around what CDA 230 precisely does and doesn’t do, the role of agencies like the FCC, and more? What are the nuances and exceptions, and how do we tease apart the most common (yet incorrect) rhetorical arguments such as “platform vs. publisher”, “like a utility/ phone company”, “public forum/square” and so on? Finally: how does and doesn’t Section 230 connect to the First Amendment when it comes to companies vs. governments; what does “good faith” really mean and what are possible paths and ways forward among the divisive debates around content moderation? All this and more in this 2x+ long explainer episode of 16 Minutes.


image: presidential tweet activity 2009/ Wikimedia Commons

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