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美國各大科技公司或將失去它們最愛的“法律擋箭牌”

近年來,很多人指責“第230條”縱容和助長了科技領域的一些陰暗面。

Salesforce公司的首席執行官馬克·貝尼奧夫于今年10月在紐約的一次媒體聚會上表示:“‘第230條’應該被廢除掉。”很多人對此都有同感。

這個被稱為“第230條”的法律在美國已經有23年的歷史了。就在不久前,它還被譽為美國互聯網經濟的支柱。由于它的存在,任何“交互式計算機服務”都不會因為用戶的不良行為而被起訴。在這面“法律擋箭牌”的庇護下,像Reddit和雅虎這樣的網站可以隨便發表任何討論內容,而幾乎不用承擔任何后果。

但近年來,很多人指責“第230條”縱容和助長了科技領域的一些陰暗面——比如Facebook上的假新聞,推特上的暴恐宣傳,或者一些網站上的報復性色情內容。今年8月,亞馬遜援引了該法律,表示就算它的網站上銷售了危險物品或不合格產品,網站也不用承擔任何法律責任。這種表態也讓“第230條”再次成為了眾矢之的。

因此,公眾對于這部法律的意見越來越大。而目前,民主、共和兩黨的政客們也越來越傾向于順應民眾的要求修改該法律。

民主黨表示,正是由于“第230條”的存在,才讓Facebook上的網絡霸凌現象如此猖狂,而Facebook卻可以像局外人一樣置身事外。共和黨人也指責各大科技公司利用該法案來評價、審查保守派的新聞。

數字權利組織“電子前沿基金會”的法務總監科爾尼·麥克謝利表示:“現在已經出現了一股抵制科技的潮流,很多人對科技公司感到憤怒,而這種怒火又轉移到了這部法律上。”

最近,密蘇里州的共和黨籍參議員約什·霍利提出了一項法案,一旦它獲得通過,“第230條”賦予大型科技公司的保護將被剝奪,只有那些美國聯邦貿易委員會認為以“政治中立方式”對內容進行了監控的網站才能豁免,繼續享受“第230條”賦予他們的保護權。

有法律專家認為該法案違憲,所以它暫時被擱置了。但值得注意的是,修改或徹底廢除“第230條”的想法,已經得到了兩黨的共同支持。

有評論人士稱,霍利的提案如果立法成功了,對大型互聯網公司的現有商業模式或將造成摧毀性的打擊,因為它將迫使互聯網企業以前所未有的力度對用戶和廣告商進行審查。到時候,這些公司很可能還得在聘請律師和內容版主上花一大筆錢。

谷歌和Facebook拒絕就此問題置評。美國科技行業組織CCIA(谷歌和Facebook都是該組織的成員)的律師馬特·施魯爾斯表示,他反對削弱“第230條”,而是主張應向警方提供更多資金,以打擊網絡犯罪。

還有法律專家警告道,不管怎樣,對“第230條”進行大刀闊斧的改革都不是一個好主意。首先,很多人們的憎惡的內容——比如仇恨言論和假新聞等等,之所以能夠在網絡上傳播,為它們提庇護的并非是“第230條”,而是美國憲法第一修正案。

斯坦福大學的互聯網責任專家達芙妮·凱勒指出,即便“第230條”被廢除了,Facebook上的“不良”內容也只有很小的一部分被會禁止,其他不良內容仍然將受到憲法第一修正案的保護。

還有評論人士認為,“第230條”的修法基本上不會對大型科技公司造成影響,因為這些公司有能力聘請更多的版主,而且也完全不害怕打官司。受修法影響最大的,將是那些預算有限的小型網絡公司。

有些呼吁廢除“第230條”的人還應該考慮一下此舉可能帶來哪些意想不到的后果。比如最近,有受害人向法院起訴了貝尼奧夫的Salesforce公司,理由是有賣淫團伙使用了它的軟件。Salesforce的律師便援引了“第230條”為自己辯護。新聞集團(News Corp.)的老板魯伯特·默多克是反對“第230條”的,但是在該集團將MySpace出售前,它也曾經利用“第230條”駁回過幾起針對MySpace的訴訟。

換句話說,批評家們對待“第230條”,平時是口誅筆伐,需要用它的時候就是“真香”。Salesforce和新聞集團并未回復我們的置評請求。

還有一些人認為,“第230條”已經成了互聯網公司相互攻擊的手段,這也使圍繞“第230條”的爭論變得更加復雜化了。公共利益組織“公共知識”(Public Knowledge)的高級副總裁哈羅德·費爾德曾經寫過大量關于互聯網法律的文章,他表示,有些公司之所以積極推動廢除“第230條”,只不過是為了打壓競爭對手。

“所有想對谷歌和Facebook捅刀子,但自己又不會受到‘第230條’直接影響的人,都在努力推動該法案的修改。”他說。

比如商業軟件巨頭甲骨文就是反對“第230條”的主力軍之一,不過甲骨文否認它有意借修法打擊其他競爭對手。甲骨文的高級副總裁肯·格魯克還表示,甲骨文已經厭倦了科技公司通過拿這部法律當擋箭牌,去“捍衛那些站不住腳的東西”。

目前,美國的法院系統已經在收緊“第230條”的保護范圍了。比如最近,有一名婦女通過亞馬遜網站,從一家第三方網店購買了一條可伸縮的狗鏈,結果這條狗鏈存在質量瑕疵,導致她的一只眼睛失明。主審的一家聯邦上訴法院拒絕了亞馬遜利用“第230條”來逃避其作為網絡平臺的責任。法官認為,“第230條”并沒有免除亞馬遜在該州相關規定下負有的產品安全責任。

去年,美國國會還首次對“第230條”進行了修訂。根據修訂后的法案,如果網站明知一名用戶是性犯罪者,卻仍然讓其使用他們的平臺,則將被取消“第230條”的豁免權。不過即便是這種針對特例的修訂也充滿了爭議。有批評人士認為,這種改變會迫使性工作者成為“地下工作者”,從而提高了她們的人身安全風險。雖然根據現行條文,互聯網公司已經要對侵犯知識產權和聯邦犯罪案件承擔責任。但去年的這次修訂至少也表明,圍繞類似的特例對“第230條”進行修改并非沒有可能。

總之,科技公司已經進入了一個新時代,原來的“擋箭牌”不可能保護他們一輩子。(財富中文網)

譯者:樸成奎

“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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