📻 — Community & Section 230: The Facts Around Censorship, Deplatforming, and Moderation in 2021

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Good morning yenizens!

A few fun links and reads to share around your communities before we jump into the meat-and-bones of today’s important content:

  1. The oral history of the XBOX.
  2. A history of diversity on the slopes.
  3. The most anticipated books of 2021.
  4. Event series notion template via Danielle M.
  5. I added a favicon and a few new channels in our (alpha) yeniverse.

To infinity & community,

— john

Today’s issue is a supremely important one because community leaders are some of the most important digital “frontline fighters” when it comes to mis and disinformation campaigns, especially when it comes to the law and how we lead, moderate, and maintain the very health and welfare of those that we serve in our growing communities.

In fact, my argument is that creators and community builders should be some of the most informed technologists on the planet because of our unique positions within small and large organizations and teams! Our impact on culture is just beginning to be understood and appreciated — this is our “decade of community“!

The recent events of “deplatforming” Trump by private companies as they permaban him, his sites, and his associated universe of services is an important historical event to be certain. The problem is that many folks simply are not as informed as they need to be when it comes to the legality of content, moderation, and censorship.

For example — and this will sting for some of us — what these private companies are doing to Trump and his perceived allies is entirely legal and protected based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Regardless of how you feel, this is what is legal (at the present moment).

You see, it’s paramount that we communicate — clearly and accurately — what one can and cannot be done to institutions, communities, and community members when it comes to US Law.

Consequently, I’d like to provide some air-cover for community-centric folks and leaders; here’s a post that you can send to folks who are confused.

For starters, I recommend that you encourage folks to read it entirely for themselves as there is really no substitute for the written law.

But, if you’re pressed for time, I got you; the more important part is Section (c) — oftentimes called the “Good Samaritan” section:

Here’s the text-version for folks who can’t see the image above:

(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

  1. (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker — No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
  2. (2) Civil liability — No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
    • (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
    • (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).

Where “interactive computer service” is:

Interactive computer service The term “interactive computer service” means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

And “information content provider” is:

Information content provider The term “information content provider” means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

Important: There is no difference between “platform” or “publisher“; in fact, according to the law, it doesn’t matter (or another way of putting it: it doesn’t need to be determined).

Here’s the bottom-line that community leaders in 2021 (and beyond) need to know, especially as they build new community-centric projects and businesses (like a CommSaaS): Section 230 protects all websites and all users of those websites of the content that is posted on the websites by someone else.

What does this mean for you and your members? It means that the website and user is not liable for the content that is posted by them which means you can’t sue the website, user, and/or underlying service; the only thing that matters is the content in question.

Does this mean that sites are free from having to moderate? No, of course not! Websites, services, and individuals still have to follow laws like Copyright and Child Pornography.

What does this mean in layman’s terms? It means that every single site must moderate content in some way, shape, and form because of laws like copyright and child pornography.

Okay, so talk to me like I’m a child… … it means that all websites moderate; even and especially the ones that say that they don’t because of some “Free Speech” branding and/or positioning.

Don’t miss this! As a community builder, creator, and entrepreneur I always have to be mindful of following the laws that govern content that is created on the very platforms that I’m using and building!

Most of the “free speech” verbiage that you see is just that — marketing & advertising — because there’s still a one-hundred percent chance you’re going to jail if you’re trafficking child porn.

Besides the fact that every community leader knows that even a small amout of moderation makes internet spaces objectively better places to hang out in because without any rules you’d live in a never-ending cesspool of spam and advertising; we have those places already, by the way: 4/8chan, 4/8kun, etc.

Section 230 Fundamentally Protects Free Speech for You and Your Members

Section 230 applies to everyone — equally — and it fundamentally protects your free speech and your member’s free speech. This is why you can repeat something (crazy) you heard from a random website on the internet (or Facebook) and not be liable for it.

This is why your community members can say stupid / crazy shit and not be liable for it. That doesn’t mean that it makes your community a super-cool and healthy place to be, but, that’s up to you! You decide the culture. This is part of what you determine in the beginning, the very why of your existence.

Section 230 is a gift to internet users and free speech, not just to “big tech” or whatever site is being fashionably (or unfashionably) focus-fired on at the present moment. All sites and communities benefit from Section 230 protections, even and especially the ones that you may not like!

Finally — and I’ve managed to avoid it directly in this article but it’s unavoidable at this point — Section 230 does not require “neutrality” when it comes to politics.

In fact, it says the opposite! Sites can moderate any way they like and face zero liability. The politician that you just heard this from is dead wrong.

And, as we already know now, Section 230 is is not a “get out of jail free card” for any community or website. We know this because web services get sued all the time as they are still liable for content they themselves create and/or post; just as your parents taught you.

Bottom-line: Moderating content is about reducing and removing content, not producing it. And you don’t lose 230 protections if your “mod hat” isn’t neutral; not how it worked back then and that’s not how it works today.

Community leaders: You are protected to ban, moderate, and pursue the creation and development of your unique community spaces as much as you’d like as long as you don’t break the laws yourself.

Which, you weren’t planning on doing anyways, right? Kara Swisher has a good high-level as we end this legally-heavy issue:

If we’re going to advance the cause of better (and healthier) communities on the internet then we have to know what’s legal and what’s not, what’s permissible and what’s simply tolerated.

We need to build communities in a way that elevate our members and helps to maximize their chances of success in every legal way possible — that’s what I mean when I say “to infinity & community”!

Love you all; pass this on.

I had a wonderful time with a handful of yenizens yesterday as we built out “Direction Documents” for our 2021 projects goals! I had an absolute blast and I love being able to kill “two birds with one stone” as I’m able to provide great value to our growing members while also test-driving our new platform!

This is the way to build any product / service! It’s The CommSaaS Way™️!

Sadly, I had to make an important decision this weekend to cancel the rest of the planned live events and workshops as I simply wasn’t sure what the next few weeks would look like here in the United States — it’s that fucked up.

Consequently, I need to have my emotional and psychological wits about me for the next few weeks as our country “finds its legs” once again. I know that it will but I’m going to limit my distractions and maximize focus.

I suggest you do the same.

January 2021 is the obvious hang-over from an all-night rager; so, let’s give it the time and space it needs to get square.

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