Current Events: Online Immunity (Section 230)

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.

47 U.S. Code, Chapter 5, Subchapter 2, § 230c (Communications Decency Act)

It is said that the twenty six words above created the internet. This sentence is a part of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Section 230 provides immunity to internet service providers (ISPs) from legal liability for content posted by third-party users on their platforms. The law was enacted in 1996, and since then, has played a crucial role in shaping the landscape of the internet.

The purpose of Section 230 was to encourage the growth and development of the internet by protecting websites and ISPs from the threat of lawsuits and legal liability from posts made by third parties, such as online commentators or participants in online forums. Section 230 has been credited with allowing the internet to become a diverse space that afforded the creation of user-generated content and the facilitation of the exchange of ideas and information on a global scale.

In recent years Section 230 has been the subject of much controversy and criticism from both federal Republicans and Democrats. Some argue that the statute allows platforms to shirk their responsibility to moderate harmful content, such as hate speech, harassment, and disinformation. Others argue that 230 provides a shield for illegal activity, or censorship. In February 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases that arose from the same set of facts, in which a parent of a terrorist attack victim claimed that online platforms (YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Facebook) aided and abetted international terrorism by allowing the terrorist organization to use its platforms. The court will now determine, “Does Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunize interactive computer services when they make targeted recommendations of information provided by another information content provider?”

This week’s Current Events resources examine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The resources shared provide information and context to how Section 230 has impacted the internet, and society, as well as the controversies that surround its prescribed immunization of large tech companies from the content posted on their platforms.


Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:

  • What is legal liability and how can it affect businesses?
  • What are the overall objectives of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?
  • How are traditional media outlets (e.g., television, radio, print media) treated differently than social media when it comes to legal liability?
  • What are the pros and cons of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act?
  • How would you rule in the Gonzalez v. Google cases? Explain.   
  • In your opinion, is it the Supreme Court’s place to change the interpretation of the Communications Decency Act? Explain. 
  • In your opinion, what modifications, if any, need to be made to the Communications Decency Act to better reflect life in the 2020’s? Explain. 

Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and Section 230 and Online Immunity Vocabulary

Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content





A Ruling That Could End the Internet as We Know It, The Daily, The New York Times, February 23, 2023

Gonzalez v. Google and the Fate of Section 230, The Lawfare Podcast, February 17, 2023

Google, Twitter, Section 230 and the Future of the Internet, We the People, National Constitution Center, February 23, 2023

The 26 Words That Made The Internet What It Is (Encore), The Indicator, Planet Money, NPR, February 21, 2023


Background Resources:

47 U.S. Code § 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material, Cornell Law School

Wyden Remarks at Section 230 Briefing Hosted by EFF, Ron Wyden, United States Senator for Oregon

Gonzalez v. Google LLC, Oyez

Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh, Oyez

Department of Justice’s Review of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, The United States Department of Justice Archives

Zeran v. America Online, Inc. (4th Cir.) (1997), The First Amendment Encyclopedia


Recent Articles:

Section 230, the internet law that’s under threat, explainedVox, February 23, 2023

Supreme Court skeptical of limiting powerful legal shield for internet companies, CBS News, February 22, 2023

“Not, like, the nine greatest experts on the internet”: Justices seem leery of broad ruling on Section 230, SCOTUSblog, February 21, 2023

Supreme Court arguments this week could reshape the future of the internet, Tech Crunch, February 21, 2023

Supreme Court to Hear Case That Targets a Legal Shield of Tech Giants, The New York Times, February 20, 2023

Supreme Court showdown for Google, Twitter and the social media world, NPR, February 21, 2023

Supreme Court justices in Google case express hesitation about upending Section 230, CNBC , February 21, 2023


Recent Editorials:

In Gonzalez v. Google, SCOTUS Has Chance To Clarify Section 230’s Meaning | Opinion, Newsweek, January 27, 2023

Breaking down a Supreme Court case on Section 230 Google claims could ‘upend’ the internet, USA Today, February 2, 2023

The Supreme Court is right to be cautious. Section 230 reform is Congress’ job, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2023


Lesson Plans:

Video Clip: Supreme Court Cases Challenging Section 230, C-SPAN Classroom

Freedom of Speech? A Lesson on Understanding the Protections and Limits of the First Amendment, The New York Times

Video Clip: The Internet and Section 230, C-SPAN Classroom 

Freedom of Speech: Finding the Limits, Annenberg Classroom

A Conversation on Judicial Interpretation, Annenberg Classroom

Resources for Younger Students:

You Decide: Supreme Court Cases on Free Speech and Press, Actively Learn

The Supreme Court: Getting It “Right”?, Newsela, September 29, 2019

How Section 230 helped shape speech on the internet, Newsela, March 15, 2023