Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) immunizes “interactive computer services” from most claims arising out of third-party content posted on the service. Passed in 1996, section 230 is a vital law for allowing free expression online, but it is ill-suited for addressing some of the harms that arise in the modern platform-based economy.
This Article proposes to redefine section 230 immunity for sharing economy platforms and online marketplaces by tying internet platform immunity to the economic relationship between the platform and the third party. It primarily focuses on one key flaw of section 230: its binary classification of online actors as either “interactive computer services” (who are immune under the statute) or “information content providers” (who are not immune). This binary classification, while perhaps adequate for the internet that existed in 1996, fails to account for the full range of economic activities in which modern platforms now engage.
This Article argues that courts applying section 230 should incorporate joint enterprise liability theory to better define the contours of platform immunity. A platform should lose immunity when there exists a common business purpose, specific pecuniary interest, and shared right of control in the underlying transaction giving rise to liability. Sharing economy platforms, such as Airbnb and Uber, and online marketplaces, such as Amazon, are primary examples of platforms that may function as joint enterprises. By using joint enterprise theory to redefine platform immunity, this Article seeks to promote greater fairness to tort victims while otherwise retaining section 230’s core free expression purpose.