One law enables the best of the internet

One law enables the best of the internet
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Think about what you value the most from the internet: is it social networks that connect you to family and friends across the world? E-commerce companies that deliver your favorite products right to your door? Ridesharing companies that take you where you need to be, on demand?

New polling from the Internet Association (of which I am the president and CEO) suggests that the success of all these services, which many Americans rely on every day, depends on our ability to interact with them. And, more specifically, on our ability to post content, leave online reviews and ratings. More than 40 percent of sharing economy customers would stop using these services if they couldn’t rank their driver, host, or maintenance worker, to name just one example.

Americans might take this user-generated content for granted, given how ubiquitous it is to our online experiences. But the truth is that an American law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) enables the best parts of the internet — and the companies that make that possible.

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There’s a good reason that most of the Internet Association’s members — which include social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, travel and review sites such as Expedia and Yelp, sharing economy services such as Uber and Airbnb, and ecommerce platforms such as Amazon and Ebay — were founded and continue to grow in America. CDA 230 means that internet companies have a legal framework that allows them to host user reviews and other user-posted content without being liable for that content. Equally important, CDA 230 is also the law that enables companies to proactively monitor and remove illegal, illicit, or objectionable content while operating at a large scale.

So how important is user-generated content to Americans? The results from a SurveyMonkey poll of a representative group of Americans commissioned by the Internet Association show that the parts of the internet enabled by CDA are the most loved by — and important to — consumers.

In other words, they’re the best parts of the internet.

Take online reviews, for example. A large majority (67 percent) of Americans consult online user reviews either “every time” or “most of the time” before visiting a business or making a purchase online.

The impact specifically on e-commerce is particularly large: 81 percent of Americans told us that they had not purchased an item because the user reviews were poor, while Another 79 percent told us that they had purchased an item they were on the fence about because it had good reviews. 

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User reviews also make Americans feel safer. Over 70 percent of respondents told us that user reviews make them feel safer when booking a handyman or cleaner, using a ridesharing service, or reserving a short-term rental.

More than 40 percent of respondents also told us that without user reviews, they’d stop using those services. User rankings and reviews — which couldn’t exist at scale without CDA 230 — enable that feeling of safety.

Some policymakers have recently proposed weakening or even fully repealing CDA 230. This is dangerous and misguided.

CDA 230 makes the best of the internet possible by providing information that Americans rely on in their daily life.

Meddling with CDA 230 would do real harm to the overwhelming majority of Americans who count on user-generated content to help them navigate their lives — both online and offline. Lawmakers should think twice before considering any changes to a law that protects so much about what Americans love about online services.

Michael Beckerman is President and CEO of Internet Association which represents the world’s leading internet companies.