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To Avoid Liability, Website Operators Must Be Careful When Editing Posts, Under Embattled Section 230

Whether Twitter can — or Facebook should — filter President Donald Trump’s online comments has focused attention on the federal law addressing the impact of a business editing what others post on its site. Section 230 of Communications Decency Act provides a site owner with protection from liability, so long as the owner adheres to guidelines and does not become a “publisher” of its user’s material. The statute allows a website operator to take action in good faith to restrict access on its site to material it considers to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” However, if the site operator begins editing to change the content or meaning of what the post says, the operator loses the safe harbor, would be deemed a publisher or speaker, and would be treated as if the site operator wrote the material itself. The statute applies to companies, large and small, that allow users to post comments on the website.

Ned T. Himmelrich
410-576-4171 • nhimmelrich@gfrlaw.com