Forums where people can chat and post would continue to exist without Section 230. We know this because few countries offer internet platforms such sweeping protections but small user forums are everywhere. What distinguishes the United States is that it is home to gigantic, ad-driven sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube.

In practice, the effect of Section 230 has not been to enable experimentation or free expression but to allow leading websites to operate on a massive scale. When you are legally responsible for what happens on your site, you have to moderate the content that appears there. But moderating well is hard. You hope to encourage thoughtful participation of parties who might be hurt by incautious speech but also parties who might feel stifled by overcaution. Moderation becomes harder as the scale and scope of a community grow. Speech that would be great fun in a mixed-martial-arts forum might be disruptive or even harmful in a forum for trauma survivors. Managing a community of both would be challenging. A pluralistic society embraces a wide variety of communities, porous but meaningfully distinct, each with its own culture. In law, the phrase “community standards” signifies a deference to the heterogeneity of norms regarding appropriate expression. In an ironic, even Orwellian, turn, social-media titans have repurposed the phrase to describe their own one-size-fits-all rules, to which every community must now defer or be excluded from the arteries of contemporary civil society.

Without Section 230, the costs and legal jeopardy associated with operating user forums would grow with the size of the forum. Courts apply speech laws with careful sensitivity to context.