As part of a symposium, I was asked to write a short paper about how the Internet has changed since the mid-1990s when Section 230 was adopted. I chose to address the 1990s stereotype that most early Internet users were well-meaning and trying to build communities, a presumption that seems mockably quaint in the 2020s. I explain why that presumption prevailed in the Internet’s early days, what’s changed since then, and the operational and regulatory implications of that loss of innocence. Check out my forthcoming draft, entitled “Assuming Good Faith Online.”
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Every internet service enabling user-generated content faces a dilemma of balancing good-faith and bad-faith activity. Without that balance, the service loses one of the internet’s signature features—users’ ability to engage with and learn from each other in pro-social and self-actualizing ways—and instead drives towards one of two suboptimal outcomes. Either it devolves into a cesspool of bad-faith activity or becomes a restrictive locked-down environment with limited expressive options for any user, even well-intentioned ones.
Striking this balance is one of the hardest challenges that internet services must navigate, and yet the U.S. regulatory policy currently lets services prioritize the best interests of their audiences rather than regulators’ paranoia of bad faith actors. However, that regulatory deference is in constant jeopardy. Should it change, it will hurt the internet—and all of us.