First Draft Released of Joint Center-Sponsored Research on Implications of Section 230 for Black Communities

June 10, 2024

Chandra Hayslett,

First Draft Released of Joint Center-Sponsored Research on Implications of Section 230 for Black Communities
Research centers Black communities in key tech policy debate
WASHINGTON — Today, a draft of key research sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “The Implications of Section 230 for Black Communities,” was posted on the Social Science Research Network. A final version of the article will be published in the William & Mary Law Review in October 2024.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act enables technology platforms to host and remove user-generated content without fear of liability for either the content or the moderation decisions.

For years, experts and advocates have called for Congress to reform Section 230, for courts and the Federal Communications Commission to reinterpret it, and for states to regulate tech platforms in ways that some argue conflict with Section 230. Unfortunately, despite the significant opportunities and challenges to Black communities stemming from the law, no entity has comprehensively examined the implications for Black communities of Section 230 or proposed Section 230 reforms. This article fills that void.

The Joint Center conceived of this project. With the generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Joint Center commissioned landscaping research, supported the co-authors’ work on the project, and organized workshops to obtain feedback from leading academic, public interest, and private sector experts.

“Focusing on Black communities makes it easier to weigh the full costs and benefits of the immunity Section 230 provides for both third-party content and content moderation, as well as the costs and benefits of reform proposals,” said Spencer Overton, co-author of the report, Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School, and immediate past president of the Joint Center. “This is particularly important because Black communities are often underrepresented in large tech companies that enjoy Section 230 immunity and policy debates surrounding Section 230. This article also contributes to the capacity of civil rights organizations to develop independent perspectives and exercise more agency in participating in Section 230 reform debates.”

“The Implications of Section 230 for Black Communities” is divided into three parts:

  • Part I examines the opportunities and challenges to Black communities that stem from Section 230’s insulation of tech companies from liability for pure third-party content.
  • Part II details how Section 230 upholds the freedom of platforms to moderate third-party content and analyzes the benefits and challenges of content moderation to Black communities.
  • Part III analyzes several proposed reforms, including notice and takedown proposals, disclosure requirements, and carve-outs to immunity for civil rights laws, algorithmic recommendations, advertisements, and larger platforms. Part III also examines the implications for Black communities of “content neutrality” proposals at issue in NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton, which is expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.

“This groundbreaking article serves as a tool to foster more informed debates about Section 230 and to better tailor proposed reforms to include the interests of all communities,” said Danielle Davis, Technology Policy director at the Joint Center. “Instead of attempting to present a single Section 230 proposal that will comprehensively and permanently address all challenges facing Black communities, this article highlights the most significant benefits and challenges of Section 230 for Black communities and examines a few popular reform proposals. Many of these insights offer key factors for analyzing and improving Section 230 reforms overall.”

To read the first public 61-page draft of the article, which is co-authored by Catherine Powell, click here.

About the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, America’s Black think tank, provides compelling and actionable policy solutions to eradicate persistent and evolving barriers to the full freedom of Black people in America. We are the trusted forum for leading experts and scholars to participate in major public policy debates and promote ideas that advance Black communities. We use evidence-based research, analysis, convenings, and strategic communications to support Black communities and a network of allies.