Assuming Good Faith Online

Article Source: Catholic University Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 30, 2022 (forthcoming)
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Many online service providers assume that users act in good faith in posting content online. As the online population grows and bad actors multiply, this assumption is hard to sustain.


Policy Relevance:

Online services should be designed to discourage bad actors.


Key Takeaways:
  • Internet service providers that host user-generated content must assume that users act in good faith in posting contributions, but must constantly combat content contributed by users who are acting in bad faith.
  • Wikipedia assumes that its editors’ contributions do not represent deliberate attempts to harm Wikipedia; however, after two decades of struggling to manage bad faith activity, Wikipedia finds the assumption of good faith hard to maintain.
  • Early in the history of the internet, most users were educated, affluent, tech-savvy men, and the online population was small.
    • Harmful activity online was unlikely to be profitable.
    • Disputes could be resolved informally.
    • Content contributors were easier to identify.
    • These factors supported a widespread assumption of good faith.
  • Today, every new internet service encounters many cybercriminals, trolls, and spammers, but many services fail to anticipate these users by adopting strong content moderation policies from the start.
  • Internet services may anticipate bad actors by imagining possible attacks and testing remedies before launch, running beta tests, and consulting in-house content moderation teams; content moderation should be adopted by design.
  • Online services can use levers to encourage appropriate behavior.
    • Elements of the service's structure such as “kindness reminders” can shape user behavior.
    • The system can provide incentives for good behavior such as adding barriers to make inappropriate content less profitable.
    • The system can track users' reputations, and payments directed only to those with good reputations.
  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act enables online services to assume users are acting in good faith by insulating the services from liability for unlawful content posted by users; it would be impossible for providers to comply with a rule requiring them to eliminate the possibility of any user’s posting harmful content.



Eric Goldman

About Eric Goldman

Eric Goldman is a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, where he is also Director of the school’s High Tech Law Institute. His research and teaching focuses on Internet law, intellectual property and marketing law.