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美国各大科技公司或将失去它们最爱的“法律挡箭牌”

近年来,很多人指责“第230条”纵容和助长了科技领域的一些阴暗面。

Salesforce公司的首席执行官马克·贝尼奥夫于今年10月在纽约的一次媒体聚会上表示:“‘第230条’应该被废除掉。”很多人对此都有同感。

这个被称为“第230条”的法律在美国已经有23年的历史了。就在不久前,它还被誉为美国互联网经济的支柱。由于它的存在,任何“交互式计算机服务”都不会因为用户的不良行为而被起诉。在这面“法律挡箭牌”的庇护下,像Reddit和雅虎这样的网站可以随便发表任何讨论内容,而几乎不用承担任何后果。

但近年来,很多人指责“第230条”纵容和助长了科技领域的一些阴暗面——比如Facebook上的假新闻,推特上的暴恐宣传,或者一些网站上的报复性色情内容。今年8月,亚马逊援引了该法律,表示就算它的网站上销售了危险物品或不合格产品,网站也不用承担任何法律责任。这种表态也让“第230条”再次成为了众矢之的。

因此,公众对于这部法律的意见越来越大。而目前,民主、共和两党的政客们也越来越倾向于顺应民众的要求修改该法律。

民主党表示,正是由于“第230条”的存在,才让Facebook上的网络霸凌现象如此猖狂,而Facebook却可以像局外人一样置身事外。共和党人也指责各大科技公司利用该法案来评价、审查保守派的新闻。

数字权利组织“电子前沿基金会”的法务总监科尔尼·麦克谢利表示:“现在已经出现了一股抵制科技的潮流,很多人对科技公司感到愤怒,而这种怒火又转移到了这部法律上。”

最近,密苏里州的共和党籍参议员约什·霍利提出了一项法案,一旦它获得通过,“第230条”赋予大型科技公司的保护将被剥夺,只有那些美国联邦贸易委员会认为以“政治中立方式”对内容进行了监控的网站才能豁免,继续享受“第230条”赋予他们的保护权。

有法律专家认为该法案违宪,所以它暂时被搁置了。但值得注意的是,修改或彻底废除“第230条”的想法,已经得到了两党的共同支持。

有评论人士称,霍利的提案如果立法成功了,对大型互联网公司的现有商业模式或将造成摧毁性的打击,因为它将迫使互联网企业以前所未有的力度对用户和广告商进行审查。到时候,这些公司很可能还得在聘请律师和内容版主上花一大笔钱。

谷歌和Facebook拒绝就此问题置评。美国科技行业组织CCIA(谷歌和Facebook都是该组织的成员)的律师马特·施鲁尔斯表示,他反对削弱“第230条”,而是主张应向警方提供更多资金,以打击网络犯罪。

还有法律专家警告道,不管怎样,对“第230条”进行大刀阔斧的改革都不是一个好主意。首先,很多人们的憎恶的内容——比如仇恨言论和假新闻等等,之所以能够在网络上传播,为它们提庇护的并非是“第230条”,而是美国宪法第一修正案。

斯坦福大学的互联网责任专家达芙妮·凯勒指出,即便“第230条”被废除了,Facebook上的“不良”内容也只有很小的一部分被会禁止,其他不良内容仍然将受到宪法第一修正案的保护。

还有评论人士认为,“第230条”的修法基本上不会对大型科技公司造成影响,因为这些公司有能力聘请更多的版主,而且也完全不害怕打官司。受修法影响最大的,将是那些预算有限的小型网络公司。

有些呼吁废除“第230条”的人还应该考虑一下此举可能带来哪些意想不到的后果。比如最近,有受害人向法院起诉了贝尼奥夫的Salesforce公司,理由是有卖淫团伙使用了它的软件。Salesforce的律师便援引了“第230条”为自己辩护。新闻集团(News Corp.)的老板鲁伯特·默多克是反对“第230条”的,但是在该集团将MySpace出售前,它也曾经利用“第230条”驳回过几起针对MySpace的诉讼。

换句话说,批评家们对待“第230条”,平时是口诛笔伐,需要用它的时候就是“真香”。Salesforce和新闻集团并未回复我们的置评请求。

还有一些人认为,“第230条”已经成了互联网公司相互攻击的手段,这也使围绕“第230条”的争论变得更加复杂化了。公共利益组织“公共知识”(Public Knowledge)的高级副总裁哈罗德·费尔德曾经写过大量关于互联网法律的文章,他表示,有些公司之所以积极推动废除“第230条”,只不过是为了打压竞争对手。

“所有想对谷歌和Facebook捅刀子,但自己又不会受到‘第230条’直接影响的人,都在努力推动该法案的修改。”他说。

比如商业软件巨头甲骨文就是反对“第230条”的主力军之一,不过甲骨文否认它有意借修法打击其他竞争对手。甲骨文的高级副总裁肯·格鲁克还表示,甲骨文已经厌倦了科技公司通过拿这部法律当挡箭牌,去“捍卫那些站不住脚的东西”。

目前,美国的法院系统已经在收紧“第230条”的保护范围了。比如最近,有一名妇女通过亚马逊网站,从一家第三方网店购买了一条可伸缩的狗链,结果这条狗链存在质量瑕疵,导致她的一只眼睛失明。主审的一家联邦上诉法院拒绝了亚马逊利用“第230条”来逃避其作为网络平台的责任。法官认为,“第230条”并没有免除亚马逊在该州相关规定下负有的产品安全责任。

去年,美国国会还首次对“第230条”进行了修订。根据修订后的法案,如果网站明知一名用户是性犯罪者,却仍然让其使用他们的平台,则将被取消“第230条”的豁免权。不过即便是这种针对特例的修订也充满了争议。有批评人士认为,这种改变会迫使性工作者成为“地下工作者”,从而提高了她们的人身安全风险。虽然根据现行条文,互联网公司已经要对侵犯知识产权和联邦犯罪案件承担责任。但去年的这次修订至少也表明,围绕类似的特例对“第230条”进行修改并非没有可能。

总之,科技公司已经进入了一个新时代,原来的“挡箭牌”不可能保护他们一辈子。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

“Section 230 should be abolished,” boomed Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at a gathering of New York media in October. Many other people feel the same way.

Not long ago, the 23-year-old law known as Section 230 was hailed as a pillar of the U.S. Internet economy for protecting any “interactive computer service” from being sued because of the bad behavior of its users. This legal shield meant online publishers like Reddit and Yahoo could host freewheeling discussions with few repercussions.

But in recent years, Section 230 has been blamed for enabling the worst aspects of the tech industry—be it fake news on Facebook, terrorist propaganda on Twitter, or websites that traffic in revenge porn. In August, the law gained further notoriety when Amazon invoked it to argue that it had no legal responsibility for dangerous and defective products sold on its site.

Public pressure to do something is mounting. And these days, politicians from both parties are increasingly happy to oblige.

Democrats blame Section 230 for letting the likes of Facebook shrug while bullies and Russian provocateurs run riot on its services. Meanwhile, Republicans accuse tech firms of using the broad indemnity offered by the law to censor conservative news.

“There’s a techlash happening, and a lot of anger at tech companies is being channeled into an attack on this particular law,” says ¬Corynne McSherry, legal director of digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Recently, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a bill that would strip big tech companies of their Section 230 protection. Only sites found by the Federal Trade Commission to monitor content in a “politically neutral manner” would be able to keep their legal shield.

The bill, which legal experts have suggested is unconstitutional, is stalled for now. But it’s notable that the idea of modifying or abolishing Section 230 has bipartisan support.

Some commentators have described the Hawley bill as blowing up the business model of large Internet companies by forcing them to vet their users and advertisers in an unprecedented fashion. Most likely, these companies would have to spend big money on lawyers and content moderators.

Google and Facebook declined to comment. Matt Schruers, a lawyer for CCIA, a tech trade group whose members include Google and Facebook, argues against weakening Section 230 and instead favors giving police more money to pursue criminals online.

In any case, legal experts warn that swinging a sledgehammer at the law is a bad idea. For one thing, the First Amendment—not 230—protects much of what people abhor online, including hate speech and fake news.

Daphne Keller, an expert on Internet liability at Stanford University, says only a very small portion of the “bad” content on Facebook would be barred if Section 230 were rescinded. The First Amendment would shield the rest.

Critics also argue that large tech companies would be mostly unscathed by Section 230’s re-peal because they can afford to hire more moderators and fight any lawsuits related to what their users post. Small web companies with tighter budgets, however, would feel the brunt.

Some of those calling for abolishing Section 230 should also consider unintended consequences. Lawyers at Benioff’s Salesforce, for instance, recently invoked the law after victims sued his company because sex traffickers had used its software. Likewise, News Corp., controlled by Section 230 critic Rupert Murdoch, used the law to rebuff lawsuits against MySpace before News Corp. sold the website.

Those critics, in other words, hate Section 230 except when it suits them. Salesforce and News Corp. didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The debate over Section 230 is complicated further by allegations of corporate skulduggery. Harold Feld, senior vice president of public interest group Public Knowledge, who has written extensively about Internet law, says some companies pushing to rescind Section 230 are doing so to undermine business rivals.

“Everyone who’s had their knives out for Google or Facebook but are not directly impacted by Section 230 are pushing very hard to change it,” he says.

Business software giant Oracle, for example, is a chief opponent of Section 230. But the company denies wanting to harm competitors and is instead, as Oracle executive vice president Ken Glueck put it, tired of tech companies “defending the indefensible” by claiming immunity from what their users post.

Already, courts are narrowing the breadth of Section 230’s liability shield. A federal appeals court recently refused to extend the law’s protection to Amazon after a woman was blinded in one eye by a defective retractable dog leash that she bought from a third-party seller on its site. In the judges’ view, the law didn’t absolve Amazon’s responsibility for product safety under state regulations.

And last year, for the first time, Congress amended Section 230 by eliminating legal immunity for websites that knowingly let sexual predators use their platforms. But even this change proved controversial. Critics say it has endangered sex workers by driving them underground. If anything, the tweak shows that exceptions to the original law, which already holds companies accountable for intellectual property infringements and federal crimes, are possible.

The bottom line is that tech companies are entering a new era. Old protections are no longer guaranteed.

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