The Texas Supreme Court has shot down Facebook’s defense against claims that it is liable for the sex trafficking that occurs on its social media platform.
Three lawsuits in Texas accuse Facebook of providing an opportunity for sex traffickers to target victims online — and the state’s highest court appears to agree.
“A lawless no-man’s-land”
Attorneys are targeting the company over allegations of negligence and product liability, arguing that it failed to take appropriate measures to prevent such abuses.
In a majority opinion, the Texas Supreme Court determined: “We do not understand Section 230 to ‘create a lawless no-man’s-land on the Internet’ in which states are powerless to impose liability on websites that knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking.”
The ruling could spark future court cases aimed at reining in the influence of Big Tech. Facebook has cracked down on potentially dangerous political content, but there has been little to compel the company to combat sex trafficking — until now.
Plaintiffs suing the social media giant allege that it has engaged in “creating a breeding ground for sex traffickers to stalk and entrap survivors.”
The state Supreme Court made it clear that Facebook must be proactive in preventing sex trafficking on the platform and can be held liable if found negligent.
“The dominant tool”
“Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not allowed on Facebook,” a company spokesperson affirmed. “We will continue our fight against the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
Attorney Annie McAdams hailed the court ruling in her own statement, explaining: “While we have a long road ahead, we are grateful that the Texas Supreme Court will allow these courageous trafficking survivors to have their day in court against Facebook.”
Some estimates indicate Facebook was a critical component in more than half of online sex trafficking cases.
Human Trafficking Institute CEO Victor Boutros referred to the internet itself as “the dominant tool that traffickers use to recruit victims, and they often recruit them on a number of very common social networking websites.”
If courts nationwide step up in the same way as the Texas Supreme Court, it could go a long way toward holding those social media platforms accountable.