Online Commerce Is Not Speech

September 18, 2020 Press Release

Washington, D.C. — The American Economic Liberties Project submitted a comment to the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that policymakers should revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make the legal framework underpinning the internet consistent with longstanding American democratic principles of dispersed power, openness, and clear liability rules for product harm.

Written in 1996 under a very different technological regime, Section 230 shields “interactive computer services” from liability for the third-party content on their websites. As the internet has evolved, monopolistic corporations like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have used the law to avoid responsibility for everything from selling dangerous products to promoting discrimination to spreading conspiracy theories to facilitating scams, stalking and harassment.

Economic Liberties recommends policymakers define liability shields not by whether an online platform offers access to a web server, but by how it makes money. If a company or website generates revenue by selling behavioral advertising, travel services, data collection, enabling commercial transactions, or otherwise monetizing the transmission of content, Section 230 should not necessarily apply. Instead the company or site should be regulated by sector-specific rules that apply to that particular line of business, as well as general torts and state criminal law.

Economic Liberties’ comment was filed in support of Carrie A. Goldberg’s previous comment, which outlined the need to reform Section 230, especially to protect victims from stalking and abuse. Economic Liberties takes no position on whether the FCC has administrative authority to promulgate rules dealing with Section 230.

Read the full comment here

Read Economic Liberties’ “Addressing Facebook and Google’s Harms Through a Regulated Competition Approach” here.


Economic Liberties works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. AELP believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.