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Bad Words and Good Samaritans: Defamatory Speech in Cyberspace
Unformatted Document Text:  16 have known, pursuant to the CDA, and finally, the extremely generous application of no liability whatsoever in a defamation suit in which a third party disseminates defamatory messages.” By absolving ISPs of any liability, Butler (1999/2000) complains, “the current standard leaves little remedy to those individuals whose reputations have been damaged through the use of Internet communication” (p. 271). Second, commentators have suggested that the Zeran interpretation of Section 230 is counterintuitive, as all agree that Congress intended to encourage ISPs to remove sexually explicit content. By interpreting Section 230 to confer blanket immunity, critics complain that the language has been construed to eliminate any incentive to remove any questionable material. “If other courts follow the path of Zeran,” Spencer (2000) laments, “the purpose of Section 230 of the CDA, which is to encourage self-regulation, will evaporate.” Since ISPs cannot be held responsible as publishers, and since ISPs cannot be held responsible as distributors when they have knowledge of unlawful material, critics complain Section 230 might actually increase the amount of sexually explicit speech in cyberspace. “Congress was only trying to encourage service providers to take the initiative to protect children from pornography,” Goldstein (2000) notes. “It did much more; it undermined defamation law and enabled service providers to escape liability even when they solicit the illegal material and actively engaged in distributing it” (638). Finally, beyond the question of what Congress intended, commentators like Butler (1999/2000) have observed “the court’s current interpretation of the ‘good samaritan’ provisions of the CDA provide less protection than is needed for libel victims and more protection than is needed for ISPs” (pp. 271-272). By striking the balance so decidedly in favor of ISPs, Zeran means that many victims will never be able to recover damages. Echoing this concern, Boehm (1998) has suggested, “Promoting the development of the Internet and preserving the vibrant nature of the Internet are valid policies worth protecting. They should, however, be weighed

Authors: Herbeck, Dale.
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have known, pursuant to the CDA, and finally, the extremely generous application of no liability
whatsoever in a defamation suit in which a third party disseminates defamatory messages.” By
absolving ISPs of any liability, Butler (1999/2000) complains, “the current standard leaves little
remedy to those individuals whose reputations have been damaged through the use of Internet
communication” (p. 271).
Second, commentators have suggested that the Zeran interpretation of Section 230 is
counterintuitive, as all agree that Congress intended to encourage ISPs to remove sexually
explicit content. By interpreting Section 230 to confer blanket immunity, critics complain that
the language has been construed to eliminate any incentive to remove any questionable material.
“If other courts follow the path of Zeran,” Spencer (2000) laments, “the purpose of Section 230
of the CDA, which is to encourage self-regulation, will evaporate.” Since ISPs cannot be held
responsible as publishers, and since ISPs cannot be held responsible as distributors when they
have knowledge of unlawful material, critics complain Section 230 might actually increase the
amount of sexually explicit speech in cyberspace. “Congress was only trying to encourage
service providers to take the initiative to protect children from pornography,” Goldstein (2000)
notes. “It did much more; it undermined defamation law and enabled service providers to escape
liability even when they solicit the illegal material and actively engaged in distributing it” (638).
Finally, beyond the question of what Congress intended, commentators like Butler
(1999/2000) have observed “the court’s current interpretation of the ‘good samaritan’ provisions
of the CDA provide less protection than is needed for libel victims and more protection than is
needed for ISPs” (pp. 271-272). By striking the balance so decidedly in favor of ISPs, Zeran
means that many victims will never be able to recover damages. Echoing this concern, Boehm
(1998) has suggested, “Promoting the development of the Internet and preserving the vibrant
nature of the Internet are valid policies worth protecting. They should, however, be weighed


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