Airbnb’s Section 230 Use Underscores Law’s Reach Beyond Facebook


As lawmakers and tech executives prepare for a major battle over an internet liability shield this year, a look at Airbnb Inc.’s use of the law shows that the stakes go well beyond social-media giants such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

The home-rental site isn’t usually mentioned in the heated discourse over Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the 25-year-old legislation that has shielded internet companies from liability for what users post on their platforms.

But Airbnb has repeatedly sought protection under the law to avoid responsibility for listings on its site that several cities say violate local home-renting rules. It is actively lobbying in the political effort to reshape the law, even as the record shows that the company’s efforts to use it as a shield haven’t always been successful.

Top executives from tech companies including Facebook and Twitter have been compelled to testify several times in front of Congress over Section 230 and how they moderate content. That debate is sure to become more heated after Twitter banned President Trump’s personal account Friday, leading him to reissue a call to repeal Section 230 on grounds that it gives tech companies too much power.

Since 2016, Airbnb has cited Section 230 in seven lawsuits it filed in federal courts against local governments to avoid responsibility for listings on its site that violate home-renting laws. While Airbnb had wins against Anaheim, Calif., and New York City, in most cases the company lost its argument and faced a settlement compelling it to abide by some or all of the demands to take more responsibility for the listings on its website, according to court filings.

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