Section 230’s liability shield for social media companies was in the news rather frequently over the past few years. However, some users are holding these platforms accountable for wrongs committed on their sites through product liability law.
The Section 230 liability shield refers to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. That section has largely been credited with allowing the proliferation of social media across the Internet because it protects the platform from liability stemming from the actions and postings of its users. Conversely, it has also been blamed for allowing these same platforms to ignore the harms they cause.
Recent court win
In an Oregon federal court, Omegle.com, LLC, will continue to fight allegations that it has facilitated the sexual abuse of minors by adults. That court did not dismiss the case based on Section 230, where the judge stated that Omegle should be treated as a product maker of a defective product, rather than a host of user-made content. Omegle randomly puts users together to video chat.
Social platforms as publishers or product makers
The crux of whether Section 230 applies is whether courts find that social media platforms are hosts of user-made content or producers of defective products. For example, Facebook and Twitter are not held responsible for user-created defamatory posts. But, in 2021, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Snapchat could be sued under product liability law if the case was based on a design feature of the company’s application (Lemmon v. Snap).
Lemmon v. Snap
In that case, two people were killed in a car accident while using SnapChat’s “speed filter.” That filter shows the user’s speed, and the parents of the two killed sued Snapchat, arguing that this filter caused or contributed to the two deaths.
The Ninth Circuit found that Snapchat did not have the Section 230 liability shield because the filter was a product of Snapchat that the parents accused of being defective. In other words, since the filter was not user-generated content, Section 230 did not apply.
What does this all mean?
Put simply, it means that our Placerville, California, readers who have been harmed by social media platforms may have legal recourse through a product liability lawsuit. Even if the harm was done by someone else, if the platform facilitated, encouraged or connected the wrongdoer, a case might be made.