August 23, 2019
In 1996, President Clinton signed a massive overhaul of U.S. telecommunications laws. Buried in the bill were twenty-six words that received virtually no attention at the time: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Those words are part of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Courts would soon interpret Section 230 to provide extraordinarily broad immunity to websites for claims arising from user-generated content. These twenty-six words made the Internet what it is today. Without Section 230, it is difficult to imagine how social media, Yelp, Wikipedia, and so many other large platforms could exist today.
Jeff Kosseff, an assistant professor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s Cyber Science Department, spent more than two years writing a book about the benefits and harms that Section 230 has created. He will describe how these twenty-six words shaped the Internet for better or worse, and the future of Section 230 as platforms are under unprecedent scrutiny.
Jeff Kosseff is an assistant professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy’s Cyber Science Department. His latest book, The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet, a history of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, was published in Spring 2019 by Cornell University Press. He also is the author of Cybersecurity Law, a textbook and treatise published by Wiley in 2017, with a second edition forthcoming in October 2019. Jeff practiced cybersecurity, privacy, and First Amendment law at Covington & Burling, and clerked for Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Before becoming a lawyer, he was a technology and political journalist for The Oregonian and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and recipient of the George Polk Award for national reporting. He received a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and a B.A. and M.P.P. from the University of Michigan.