Is It Time Yet?: An Evening Discussing Section 230 with Professor T. Barton Carter

“Professor Carter spoke about how anonymity on the internet creates problems in situations where something defamatory or offensive is posted.”

The February session of the Communication Research Colloquium series was held on February 22 at the BU College of Communication. It featured Professor T. Barton Carter who discussed whether the time has come to revise Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act.

Professor T. Barton Carter, according to his College of Communication profile, is also an attorney, with a focus in both communication law and new communication technologies.

The event consisted of an hour-long speech, which involved simplified information regarding the complex topic, explanation of a variety of cases, and good humor.

Professor Carter provided the audience with a plethora of information regarding Section 230, which was included by Congress in the Communications Decency Act to find a middle ground between exercising complete editorial control on websites and no editorial control at all. He also explained cases such as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, and the Pentagon Papers case (New York Times v. United States).

As a speaker, Professor Carter had the undivided attention of his audience. He spoke about diverse topics, including: the troubles courts and legislature have while dealing with new technology, how internet is progressing at a higher pace than the law itself, Section 230 and its effect on the defamation law, constitutional privilege and liability, editorial control in communication, and the Communications Decency Act (and its interaction with the overtime development in internet services).

He discussed how courts and legislatures often have trouble dealing with new communication technology. While providing the reasons for this, he explained that technology moves at a faster rate than law and that those responsible for changing the law do not have the understanding of latest technology. This results in law falling further behind.

The Colloquium was organized by the Communication Research Center and was very well received. Its audience consisted of more than 60 individuals who occupied the entire venue. Although the event was dominated by student participants, it still had a considerable number of professors, researchers, and other faculty members who engaged in it.

“The talk was very informational,” Brianna Holcomb, a graduate student in the Mass Communication (MS) program, shared. “He does a very good job of explaining by giving a lot of examples of cases that apply to not just (the field of) journalism, public relations or mass communication. He encompasses all of that and shows us why it is important to us.”

A conference loaded with information, there was something in it for everyone.

“For me, the most interesting part was how internet law and the fact that internet is international comes into play,” Lara Agha, a Mass Communication student, said. “The example given by Professor for spam mail was really cool.”

Professor Carter had explained this concept with the help of spam mail as an example. He spoke about how U.S has a law that limits spam mail, but everybody still receives it because it could be sent from any place that falls outside of the country’s jurisdiction.

Professor Carter spoke about how anonymity on the internet creates problems in situations where something defamatory or offensive is posted. The user gets protected because of the anonymity factor and, in turn, gets free range to post anything.

“I was really interested by what he said about anonymity and limiting it as a solution to the problems brought about by Section 230,” Daniel Novak, a Mass Communication graduate student, said. “You are not really going to get a one-size-fits-all answer, but anonymity is a place to start. It is a tricky subject.”

The talk served as a novel experience, even to students who are taking Professor Carter’s course this semester.

“We discussed Section 230 in class, and I thought it was interesting because it is an ever-changing subject,” Bianca Chaer, a BU COM graduate student, said. “It is really difficult to stay on top of it. The talk gave me a different perspective than the one we had in class.”

Toward the end of the conference, Professor Carter urged the audience to pose any queries it had. The audience took advantage of this opportunity and actively participated in the Q & A session.

Participants asked him questions such as whether there is a possibility of an actual revision to Section 230 and his opinion about social media libel cases. His knowledge of this topic shone when he answered these questions succinctly and with examples.

The Colloquium was a success in terms of participation rate, reception by the audience, and Professor Carter’s adept delivery of the speech–which was not only insightful but also gave the audience a differential analysis on the matter.

The Communication Research Center will be conducting a March edition of the Colloquium series. Those interested can get further information here:  http://sites.bu.edu/crc/about-crc/

 

 

Prachi Kabir, Staff Writer

Prachi is a Communication Studies graduate student from India who believes good research is more exhilarating than a good read. Needless to say, she is an avid reader, wannabe wine aficionado, professional daydreamer and hopeful to make a career in PR. Apart from reading, she loves sleeping and eating in no particular order.

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