The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 was hugely controversial and one of the most widely debated laws relating to online conduct.
Passed as a part of a broader telecom bill, it was widely seen as an attempt to censor digital culture and became the subject of one of the internet’s first grassroots campaigns—and the courts sided with the activists. Most of the law has been overturned for two decades.
One section of the law that did stick around, however, has ironically turned into an essential building block of digital freedom. Section 230 of the CDA shielded owners of an online service from legal liability, a move that helped to open up the digital ecosystem for different kinds of businesses—such as forums, digital review sites, blogs with comment sections, and (of course) social networks. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it “the most important law protecting internet speech.”
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