Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, an outspoken tech industry figure who apparently is not afraid to criticize other business leaders, spent the entire week on Facebook bashen on the company's refusal to moderate certain content on its platform, such as political ads that contain lies. He is on tour to promote his book, pioneerand understandably generates enough headlines and free promotion. But a special call to action that Benioff voiced two days ago on Twitter, for abolishing the often misunderstood section 230, may not have been thought through that well.
That is because, according to BuzzFeed News, Salesforce lawyers use Section 230 as a defense in not one but seven lawsuits relating to the Backpage website, to which Salesforce allegedly sold its cloud-based sales management software and other services.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the law that ensures that technology platforms cannot be held responsible for the content posted by their users, and it is the same law that is protected by Salesforce lawyers against technical support to a company that was closed by the FBI for violating countless money laundering and prostitution laws.
Facebook is a publisher. They must be held responsible for propaganda on their platform. We must have standards and practices that are set by law. FB are the new cigarettes – it is addictive, bad for us, and our children are drawn inside. We have to abolish section 230. pic.twitter.com/OHVDVVd1jt
– Marc Benioff (@Benioff) October 16, 2019
Techdirt founder Mike Masnick first drew attention to Salesforce using Section 230 as a legal defense when he evoked the apparent hypocrisy on Twitter. Techdirt focuses on the intersection of technology, policies and legislation with a focus on intellectual property, patents and copyrights, so it's no surprise that Masnick saw it. The next morning, Masnick posted more details and personal thoughts on his website.
Dude. Your company uses section 230 to defend yourself during a lawsuit. I think your expensive lawyers have just had a heart attack. https://t.co/J9EYK2XTez
– Mike Masnick (@mmasnick) October 17, 2019
Backpage was a classified advertising site found by the federal government as a refuge for advertisements with little disguised sex work. The co-founder and CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering and prostitution help, with part of his plea obliging him to keep the site offline for good after the government seized him last April .
Salesforce, who has assisted the activities of Backpage, can be held liable in various court cases. But the company's lawyers cited paragraph 230 in a legal file on Wednesday and have been using it as a defense for weeks.
"Salesforce objects to requests based on the fact that it is entitled to federal immunity from litigation under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C." § 230, regarding the claims in this promotion, "Salesforce lawyers wrote in an application for one of the seven cases, this one from Harris County, Texas. According to chief attorney for prosecutors Annie McAdams, who spoke with BuzzFeed, Salesforce signed a contract with Backpage at the same time that the Attorneys General went after the site.
Section 230 is currently at the heart of a rather cruel partisan debate about the extent to which technology companies should moderate platform platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with Republican politicians saying that Silicon Valley has a liberal bias and punishes conservatives unfairly. Some of those legislators, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), have called for the amendment of Section 230 to force technology companies such as Facebook to be politically neutral.
Salesforce did not respond immediately to a request for comment.