User Generated Content
User generated content: Is a website or social media platform (like Twitter or Facebook) legally responsible for the comments or posts by its users?
Update May 29, 2020: President Trump has signed an executive order that aims to change the rules for social media platforms. See below for details.
Generally, no, a website, social media, or other online platform can NOT be held legal responsible or liable for posts, comments, etc by its users. This applies even when the posts may violate certain laws.1Communications Decency Act Section 230 For example, if someone posts illegal threats of violence, or defamatory statements, the website or other online platform would generally not be liable for these.
This rule is due to the now famous Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
However there are two specific exceptions. As of March 2018, platforms that know about any facilitation of sex trafficking of children on their site can now be held responsible for this. This new law was passed to prevent such activity occurring on sites like backpage.com. See the full story on NPR.
The second exception relates to intellectual property. Specifically with regard to users’ infringements of intellectual property, such as copyright or trademark, platforms and websites must comply with DMCA takedown procedures (see above for more), otherwise they could be held liable for the intellectual property infringement.
Executive Order May 28, 2020: This new executive order says that if a platform inappropriately restricts content, it will be considered to be engaging in editorial conduct. As such, it will lose its legal protection under Section 230. However, legal experts believe that this order is unconstitutional, as the president does not have the unilateral authority to change a law passed by Congress. Congress would need to vote on it. See more about how all that works at our Legal Basics.
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