I Love Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Often I hear website owners paranoid about what people post on their site. Of course nobody wants spam, but why are you so worried about what people say on your website? Think you are going to get sued for hosting defamation? Think again.

The CDA, or Communications Decency Act, specifically section 230, protects websites from what other people say. This includes comments, posts, and anything else you can think of.

Don’t think that’s such a big deal? Imagine the impact this would have on the amount of content available online today if the CDA didn’t exist.

Without the CDA, product reviews on Amazon.com and user feedback on eBay.com would no longer be allowed because one false comment by a user could result in these sites being dragged into court and sued for unlimited damages.

  • Without the CDA, Facebook.com would not exist because the site would have to fact-check every posting made by all of its 500 million+ users.
  • Without the CDA, Youtube.com would not exist because the site would be liable for any inaccurate statements made in a video posted to the site.
  • Without the CDA, there would be no Twitter.com, Wikipedia.com, LinkedIn.com, Craigslist.com, Blogger.com … basically no sites that allow users to post material.
  • Without the CDA, you wouldn’t be allowed to post comments about any other site.
  • Without the CDA, huge amounts of content on search engines like Google would vanish because search engines would be required to verify each comment made on the 30 trillion web pages they index or risk liability for anything inaccurate that appears on an indexed page.

UGC (User Generated Content)

Now that you know Section 230 of the CDA protects you, it’s time to introduce you to another 3 letter acronym, UGC.

There is a reason why Facebook recently added Q&A to their website. There is a reason why Twitter has built an entire business model off user generated tweets. UGC (User Generated Content) is powerful, and it does more than most will ever realize.

User Generated Content

What is it? Quite simply it is content that is not created by you, but rather the users of your website, blog, or social media network.

User Generated Content is the YouTube comment, it’s the guest blog post, and it is the long Facebook rant. It is the content you know and read each day, but from the perspective of the company that hosts that content. And this is all protected by Section 230 of the CDA.

There are people all over the world mindlessly plugging away writing blog entry after blog entry trying to generate traffic to their website. Then there are those of us (myself included), thinking tirelessly about ways to get users to generate that content (and traffic) for free.

Instead of working so hard at research, writing, and gathering data, why not put consumers to work for you and have them create your content for free?

With that in mind here are three reasons why your next website craves user generated content, and why it will succeed much easier (and faster) if you plan on incorporating it from the start.

Predict Trending Topics

You can read and monitor tweet deck all you want, but nobody knows what’s trending faster than millions of people worldwide. Instead of actively trying to figure out what’s hot and what’s not, why not allow people to post trending topics in your niche? This is one of the huge benefits afforded by the Communications Decency Act.

For example a huge mobile sms scam hit the web a few months back, and luckily for me I have a website that targets scams just like that. Right as millions of sms messages were hitting cell phones worldwide, a user was generating a detailed description of the scam on one of my websites.

Trending Topics from User Generated ContentGuess what? As thousands searched for that scam in the days to come I already had the article in one of my UGC sites. Thousands of hits in mere hours and I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. The research was free, the content was free, and the approach was completely passive on my part.

Mining Free Content

Paying for content is overrated, just ask facebook. They have convinced the whole world to be their personal band of content writers, constantly writing and promoting the facebook brand worldwide. They used the CDA to protect themselves and enable a billion users around the world to work for them for free.

Then Facebook took it one step further, turning users into freelance photographers and videographers, uploading rich media content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Why would you pay for content writers when you can just find somebody’s emotional hot button and get them to write for you for free? Call it whatever you want, but people are willing to contribute to something they are passionate about, just look at any message board or forum on the web.

Gathering Consumer Intelligence

This is the last reason the CDA is so powerful, and in my opinion the most powerful one of them all. What’s more valuable than content or revenue? It’s the ability to predict the next big thing to hit the web, and that comes from consumer intelligence.

Consumer Intelligence Data from User Content

Learn what people need, and you have your next project. Instead of trying to market your product to consumers, intelligence allows you to create your next product based on a need. You are basically guaranteed demand and revenue from the get go, anything after that is just a sweet bonus.

People start businesses all the time hoping there is a need for them, why not gather the foresight ahead of time to all but bank on that next start up.

By leveraging Section 230, you can host UGC (have your cake) as well as store the consumer data (and eat it too). This is, as long as it’s not private or personally protected data of course.

User generated content, much like Google trending topics, always assure that you are feeling the pulse of consumers. While the rest of the world is throwing darts at a board, you can bet on sure things.

Get it now? The internet is what it is today because of free speech, and because the federal government doesn’t expect you to run around policing every square inch of your website.

So spend less time policing what people say on your site, and more time getting additional traffic to your site through UGC.

Quit worrying and just hide behind the CDA.