The “Greatest Internet Law” turned 15 years old this year, but few people have even heard of it. The law says that “interactive computer services” are shielded from liability for information posted or published on their systems by users. This means that online intermediaries have generous leeway to determine what content and commerce travels over their systems without the fear that they will be overwhelmed by lawsuits if other parties object to some of that content.
The law is in the provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, also known as Section 230. It helped foster the wide variety of informational sites that are available to us today such as message boards, community forums, shopping sites, auction services, social networking sites, messaging services, and blogs. If not for the immunities granted by Sec. 230, online speech and commerce would have been severely stifled because of the threat of legal action. This law is a big part of why the Internet has been such a massive success since Internet access became available to the public in 1992.