Section 230 of the CDA is landmark legislation involving the regulation of content on the Internet. The statute immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties; it provides that “[n]o provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c). It further provides that “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” Id.§ 230(e)(3).
Section 230 of the CDA was enacted, in part, to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(b)(2). Congress enacted Section 230, in part, as a response to a New York state court decision, Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Servs. Co., (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 24, 1995), where an interactive computer service was held liable for defamatory comments made by one of its two million users.
To further these goals, Congress declined to extend traditional defamation law, as applied to classical information providers such as newspapers, magazines, television, and radio stations to the Internet. Section 230(c)(1) shields a “provider” or “user” of an “interactive computer service” from liability when either of them publish material provided by a third-party “information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). Section 230(e)(3) provides teeth to § 230(c)(1) by barring all state based claims “inconsistent” with the statute.
In one of the earliest cases involving the CDA, the Court of Appeals for Fourth Circuit interpreted § 230(e)(3) to bar all state claims sounding in tort. Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327, 331 (4th Cir. 1997). The court observed that Congress did not want to “deter harmful online speech through the separate route of imposing tort liability on companies that serve as intermediaries for other parties’ potentially injurious messages.” Id. at 330-331. The reasoning of Zeran is now widely accepted by courts across the Unites States and, likewise, HolySmoke.org has been routinely recognized as falling within the Section 230’s protection.