Citation: Thierer, Adam and John Palfrey. "Dialogue: the Future of Online Obscenity and Social Networks." 5 March 2009. Ars Technica. 1 April 2009. <http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/03/a-friendly-exchange-about-the-future-of-online-liability.ars/2>.
This source presents a discussion between Adam Thierer, Director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation's Center for Digital Media Freedom, and John Palfrey, Harvard law professor and Vice Dean, about the merits of Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act and the role online service providers, including social networking websites, should play in protecting children from obscene content. Thierer has concerns about revisions to CDA 230; he does not think social networks should have extensive liability concerning objectionable material on their sites, and he thinks CDA 230 has been beneficial overall. However, Palfrey believes that ISPs and social networking websites should not be immune from tort lawsuits claiming harm from the carriers’ negligence. Instead, accusations should be allowed to be brought to court, where the plaintiffs will have to prove that the ISPs were in fact negligent. Palfrey believes that CDA 230 should be amended in such a way because it will encourage online service providers to make more of an effort to protect minors and develop more innovative ways of protection. He added, however, that most ISPs would not be found negligent by a court, and a multi-faceted approach must be taken to achieve the goal of protecting children on the Internet. Palfrey also acknowledges the merits of CDA 230, and said he would not want the goals of it to be drastically impeded.
The dialogue presented is a good analysis of the issues concerning child protection and CDA 230. The dialogue format enhances the analysis because it allows Palfrey to address the questions raised by a critic of his opinion. Palfrey’s approach to modifying CDA 230 strikes a balance between the competing goals of shielding minors from harmful content and promoting the development of ISPs. However, Palfrey is the first to admit that a change in the law would likely not make too much of a difference in increasing liability, especially among the larger ISPs who can afford to make some effort to protect children. What is perhaps the most important element of Palfrey’s argument is that he stated that there needs to be an increase in efficacy for children to become more protected online. Empowering people to protect children could achieve the same goal without having to navigate the complex legislative process.