Here’s a case decided by a federal court in Pennsylvania that is more significant than it appears on first blush. The facts are relatively simple. Dr. Deborah Thomas, a professor at Penn emailed to a listserv maintained by the American Black Anthropologists articles critical of a Dr. Janet Monge. Dr. Monge is a member of the organization. Dr. Monge sued Dr. Thomas for defamation based on her forwarding the material, which Dr. Monge contended was defamatory.
The federal court made a straightforward ruling that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protected Dr. Thomas. Put simply, email is an interactive computer service, which Dr. Thomas used to forward content created by a third party. Section 230 provides that Dr. Thomas, under these facts, can’t be deemed the publisher of the content. Case closed.
Here’s the significance, however. There is a lot of rhetoric out there pushing for the repeal or amendment of Section 230. Part of that rhetoric argues that Section 230 is merely a tool for big tech – like Twitter, Facebook, etc. – to defame people without consequence. But this decision illustrates the point that Section 230 just as effectively protects the “little guy” and helps ensure that people can share controversial content without fear of liability. And that is a worthy attribute.