The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet

9781501714412: Hardback
Release Date: 15th April 2019

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 328

Cornell University Press

The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet

Hardback / £22.99

"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Did you know that these twenty-six words are responsible for much of America's multibillion-dollar online industry? What we can and cannot write, say, and do online is based on just one law—a law that protects online services from lawsuits based on user content. Jeff Kosseff exposes the workings of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has lived mostly in the shadows since its enshrinement in 1996. Because many segments of American society now exist largely online, Kosseff argues that we need to understand and pay attention to what Section 230 really means and how it affects what we like, share, and comment upon every day.

The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet tells the story of the institutions that flourished as a result of this powerful statute. It introduces us to those who created the law, those who advocated for it, and those involved in some of the most prominent cases decided under the law. Kosseff assesses the law that has facilitated freedom of online speech, trolling, and much more. His keen eye for the law, combined with his background as an award-winning journalist, demystifies a statute that affects all our lives –for good and for ill. While Section 230 may be imperfect and in need of refinement, Kosseff maintains that it is necessary to foster free speech and innovation.

For filings from many of the cases discussed in the book and updates about Section 230, visit

Part I.: The Creation of Section 230
1. Eleazar Smith's Bookstore
2. The Prodigy Exception
3. Chris and Ron Do Lunch
Part II.: The Rise of Section 230
4. Ask for Ken
5. Himmler's Granddaughter and the Bajoran Dabo Girl
6. The Flower Child and a Trillion-Dollar Industry
7. American Exceptionalism
Part III.: The Gradual Erosion of Section 230
8. A Lawless No-Man's Land?
9. Hacking 230
Part IV.: The Future of Section 230
10. Sarah versus the Dirty Army
11. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill.
12. Moderation Inc.
13. Exceptional Exceptions

Jeff Kosseff is Assistant Professor in the US Naval Academy's Cyber Science department, where he teaches cybersecurity law. He has practiced technology and First Amendment law, and clerked for Judges Milan D. Smith, Jr. of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Leonie M. Brinkema of the US District Court for the Eastern District Court of Virginia. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and the recipient of the George Polk Award in National Reporting.

"A comprehensive, thoughtful and greatly needed treatment of the the law that gave birth to the internet as we know it. This book is bound to shape the conversation about the nature of online activity for years to come."

Joseph E. Kennedy, University of North Carolina School of Law

"Jeff Kosseff's vital book helps readers imagine the history and remember the future of the Communications Decency Act 230. It's an admirably readable and judiciously documented 'biography' of the uniquely American Internet law. The book couldn't be globally more relevant, since cyberlaw is still evolving in many countries. Its contextual discussion of Americans' 230 experience illuminates why and how the United States continues to serve as the world's fascinating free-speech laboratory."

Kyu Ho Youm, University of Oregon

"The Twenty Six Words that Created the Internet provides a timely reminder that the questions we now face about platforms, speech, and harm are not new. A combination of detective work, investigative journalism, and historical documentation, Kosseff's book is frank about the law's shortcomings even as it is persuasive about its overall value."

Daphne Keller, Stanford Center for Internet and Society

"Most people benefit from Section 230 every hour, but are unaware it even exists. Jeff Kosseff's new book provides the first-ever comprehensive history of this monumentally important law. The book's lucid and reader-friendly style will fully engage Section 230 newcomers; while the book's many never-before-publicized details will enlighten Section 230 enthusiasts."

Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University

"This book is important and timely. Kosseff clearly and concisely explains the complicated history of Section 230, and how its 'safe harbor' created the internet as we know it today. But he also acknowledges that Section 230 can shield terrible crimes and impose other social costs that we must mitigate."

Brian L. Frye, University of Kentucky

"Jeff Kosseff's latest is essential reading. His deft and insightful work chronicles the unexpected tale of how just twenty-six words in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 changed online speech forever. All thoughtful lawmakers, tech executives, and concerned citizens need to grapple with how we got here."

Cyrus Farivar, author of Habeas Data

"So much of our life today—our reputation, networks, and livelihood—is mediated by our online presence. Kosseff's excellent and well-researched book should thus be read by anyone interested in online regulation. It is a joy to read."

Orly Lobel, author of You Don't Own Me

"Jeff Kosseff's richly detailed history of Section 230 is a gift to anyone seeking to understand how the Internet became what it is, what it could have been, and what it could be."

Mary Anne Franks, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, author of The Cult of the Constitution

"Jeff Kosseff's behind-the-scenes reportage spotlights the foundational law, Section 230, that made the modern internet possible. Kosseff  emphasizes the law's boundless virtues and just as helpfully acknowledges its occasional weaknesses. He shows how 230 has shaped an internet that empowers everyone to speak freely, to hold governments and powerful private actors accountable, and to build the next Facebook, Google, or Wikipedia."

Mike Godwin, R Street Institute

"As the debates over the future of platform and edge provider regulation simmer, this book provides an important look at the twenty-six words that created the internet and protect the flow of speech online."

Christopher Terry, University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication

"Kosseff's book is timely, given the intensifying debate about whether Congress should find ways to hold Internet companies accountable for third-party speech that harms individuals and society as a whole. But the book's value goes beyond timing. The author's background as a journalist and his current roles as a professor and a lawyer enable him to produce an engaging narrative that explains the law clearly and compels us to think about speech in the modern age and who is responsible when it is harmful."

The Washington Post

"Americans are of two minds about the internet: They rely on it and fear it, they immerse themselves in it for hours and deplore its social consequences.... Jeff Kosseff's 'The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet' is in many ways the story of how and why this happened."

The Wall Street Journal

"Kosseff presents an insider's account of the current dispute over whether a website should be permitted to profit from publishing advertisements that sell illegal sexual services possibly performed by minors. This book is extremely timely as both US lawmakers and the nation's courts are struggling over the proper regulation of online hate speech, fake news, political bias, and other systematic manipulations employing this increasingly powerful form of communication."


"Kosseff has a thorough grasp of his material, and readers will find his exploration of Section 230 balanced, timely, and consistently thought-provoking."

Publishers Weekly

Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title - 2019