How the Fight Over Craigslist's 'Adult Services' Endangers the Open Internet

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The law that essentially allows social media to exist is under assault by state attorneys general, Ryan Singel reports. In an effort to score political points by pillorying Craigslist, the AGs are going after Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which just so happens to be a key part of the legal infrastructure underpinning the open web as we know it. It's a must-read piece of analysis:

For example, WordPress, Yelp, Google Groups, Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, Topix, Yahoo, The New York Times and Wired.com are all protected under this law. Blogger isn't responsible for any libel posted on a blog it hosts; Twitter isn't responsible for someone using it to sell drugs; Facebook isn't responsible if a user posts an infringing photo; review sites like Yelp aren't held liable if a user posts a libelous review, and no news site is legally responsible for what a commenter says. Instead, in each case, the person who wrote or posted is legally responsible and can be sued or charged criminally.

The logic is clear: if an electronic service bore responsibility for the postings of its users, there would be no online discussion forums, no reviews on Amazon.com, no feedback on eBay, no blog hosting services, no user comments on news stories, and no Wikipedia, Twitter or Facebook.

The most recent assault on Craigslist for allowing thinly veiled ads for prostitution and for legal "adult services" has been led by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, caught in a tight race for the U.S. Senate. Wired.com asked his office what it is that he actually thinks Craigslist has done to violate the law and how he would re-work CDA 230.

Read the full story at Epicenter on Wired.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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