Dealing with Disinformation: Evaluating the Case for CDA 230 Amendment

40 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2017

See all articles by Tim Hwang

Tim Hwang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory

Date Written: December 17, 2017


Recent revelations surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and the role that "fake news" may have played in shaping voter preferences have sparked a broad conversation among researchers, policymakers, technologists, and others on how to combat the spread and influence of disinformation online. Emerging from this conversation has been a number of proposals that seek to pass legislation or promulgate regulations that would make it more difficult for disinformation to flow through the web.

To that end, these interventions will confront the long-standing legal protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA 230), a key legal provision which broadly shields platforms from legal liability for the actions of third-party users of their services. For the past two decades, this provision has been seen as major driver in the growth of online services, and a cornerstone supporting free expression on the web. Simultaneously, CDA 230 has also been argued to inhibit platform responsiveness to the harms posed by harassment, defamation, sex trafficking, and a host of other activities online. The present-day debates on how to address "fake news" will join the legacy of efforts to reform or eliminate the shield provided by CDA 230.

This paper seeks to address three questions given this historical background. First, would modifications to CDA 230 pave the way to an effective response to the challenges posed by disinformation online? Second, if so, should such modifications be made? Finally, how should such modifications be crafted?

Keywords: CDA 230, free expression, fake news, online disinformation

Suggested Citation

Hwang, Tim, Dealing with Disinformation: Evaluating the Case for CDA 230 Amendment (December 17, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Tim Hwang (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - MIT Media Laboratory ( email )

20 Ames St.
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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