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Can Section 230 cover developers as well as providers?

Technology for Lawyers

Published: June 21, 2024

We all know what Section 230 of Title 47 is right?
The oft-times political football that, legend has it, started the modern internet, is a part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
It generally provides protection for online communication services by making those services immune from responsibility for content provided by users of that service.
Section 230 has allowed services like Facebook and Twitter (or “X”) to publish a user’s post that that user could get sued or arrested for with total immunity for the service.
Various politicians threaten to alter or delete 230 but it’s still there and will be for the foreseeable future.
But one social media scholar thinks that Section 230 also protects users, and in particular, developers who post programs that the platforms don’t like.
Ethan Zuckerman (as opposed to Mark Zuckerberg) had a friend who posted the “unfollow everything” app to Facebook in 2021.
This kind of app is often called “middleware,” as it gets between the platform and the user.
Zuckerberg blocked that app and permanently suspended that author of that app from Facebook and Instagram.
Zuckerman thought that was not only unfair but that Facebook’s action might violate Section 230. So he proposed a lawsuit to clarify that question.
Enter Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute (there’s your Akron connection), who picked up the charge and filed a lawsuit on Zuckerman’s behalf asking the Northen District of California to declare that Facebook can’t ban or sue him for building an unfollowing tool like the previous one.
“I think in many ways Section 230 has become shorthand for, ‘The internet giants have too much power,’” the Post quotes Zuckerman as saying. “The funny thing is, when you actually read 230, it has language in there that could give us a path to more control” for users.
If Zuckerman (“The Man”) beats Zuckerberg (“The Berg”), he will drop another unfollow tool and expects more anti-Berg tools will follow. User revolt!
It is obviously hard to say how the California court might rule in this case of first impression.
So read all about it and stay tuned. A ruling in Zuckerman’s favor could alter the internet in very radical ways.
Thanks for the tip to the Washington Post’s Cybersecurity 202 newsletter.
Case: Zuckerman v. Meta Platforms, No. 3:24-cv-02596 (N.D. Cal.). Filed May 1, 2024.