Why ALL Section 230 Reform Measures May Hurt Gun Rights

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Earlier this week, Cam wrote about an attempt to shut down sites like Armslist. The attack seeks to use reform of Second 230, something conservatives have been clamoring for a lot in recent months/years.

See, the issue is that Section 230 provides protections to sites like Facebook and Twitter, permitting them to not be held liable for what happens on their sites. You can’t sue Facebook because someone says something mean to you, after all.

Feinstein’s bill seeks to undo that part of 230 to attack gun sites like Armslist.

However, as Gabby Hoffman points out in a new column, it’s important to remember that Section 230 reform that many people want may go further than that.

Debate surrounding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 most often involves social media. But what about gun sales?

The question is worth asking because if Senate Democrats get their way, they’ll weaponize S230 reform to target online gun marketplaces. Conservatives urging repeal of Section 230 are playing right into their hands.

Section 230 enumerates in its “civil liability” clause that providers or users of an “interactive computer service” aren’t liable for third-party content posted there. Just as Facebook and Twitter aren’t liable for their users’ slander or misinformation, sites such as Armslist.com (the gun owner’s Craigslist) aren’t liable for illegal gun sales.

That doesn’t sit well with Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She recently introduced The Accountability for Online Firearms Marketplaces Act. If passed, her bill would “clarify” Section 230 to strip online firearms marketplaces, specifically Armslist.com, of immunity protections. “It’s time to start holding accountable those who turn a blind eye to illegal gun sales on their platforms,” Feinstein said .

Undoubtedly, there’s already legal precedent for Armlist.com to be afforded S230 protections. In Stokinger v. Armslist ,the Massachusetts Superior Court ruled the Good Samaritan clause applies to them because they don’t “create the third party classified listings, nor is Armslist directly involved in the transaction.”

Alternatively, repealing the law’s civil liability clause would shift legal liability from federal firearms licensed dealers to sites such as Armslist. Not only would that undermine free speech, but it would also imperil lawful commerce involving private party transfers that may require background checks. Not to mention making these sites liable for the transactions they host does nothing to address criminal gun use. It just forces law enforcement to pursue cases against businesses instead of targeting criminals.

See, what this all plays into is something I love talking about: The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Let’s say many on the right get what they want. They get Second 230 repealed and can now hammer Twitter and Facebook for their bias.

As author Gabriella Hoffman notes, if that happens, Armslist loses its Section 230 protections as well. Once that happens, it’s game over for Armslist and any other site where people might sell a gun.

And you’re deluding yourself if you think just beating Feinstein’s bill would be sufficient to stop that from happening. Any Section 230 repeal will yield similar results.

Sorry, but thems the breaks.

If you want to force fairness from Facebook or Twitter, you’re going to have to take an alternate approach. You’re going to have to make it too costly for them to be biased.

Section 230 reform isn’t likely the approach any of us really want to take.