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Free Speech in the Digital Age$
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Susan J. Brison and Katharine Gelber

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190883591

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190883591.001.0001

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“Not Where Bodies Live”

“Not Where Bodies Live”

The Abstraction of Internet Expression

(p.137) 8 “Not Where Bodies Live”
Free Speech in the Digital Age

Mary Anne Franks

Oxford University Press

John Perry Barlow, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), famously claimed in 1996 that the internet “is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.” The conception of cyberspace as a realm of pure expression has encouraged an aggressively anti-regulatory approach to the internet. This approach was essentially codified in U.S. federal law in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which invokes free speech principles to provide broad immunity for online intermediaries against liability for the actions of those who use their services. The free speech frame has encouraged an abstract approach to online conduct that downplays its material conditions and impact. Online intermediaries use Section 230 as both a shield and a sword—simultaneously avoiding liability for the speech of others while benefiting from that speech. In the name of free expression, Section 230 allows powerful internet corporations to profit from harmful online conduct while absorbing none of its costs.

Keywords:   CDA 230, Backpage, online harassment, corporations, moral hazard

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