During his tenure in the White House, former President Donald Trump repeatedly accused Facebook of exploiting liability protections granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and he hoped for changes to be made to allow the platform to be held accountable.
Now, it looks like that wish is becoming closer to reality. According to Forbes, a trio of lawsuits that recently came before the Texas Supreme Court is raising questions about whether the social media platform has contributed to alleged human trafficking — and threatening the Section 230 protections that so many Big Tech companies enjoy.
At the heart of the lawsuits, according to Forbes, are three young sex trafficking victims who claim to have been “groomed” under false pretenses by adult users of Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram.
While the court dismissed some of the claims put forward by the alleged victims against the Mark Zuckerberg-led company, it ruled that the suits regarding allegations of sex trafficking on the platforms could proceed.
According to reports, Facebook was hoping to use Section 230 as something of a legal shield against the claims. But in a 33-page ruling Friday, Texas Supreme Court Justice Jimmy Blackrock wrote that Section 230 did not “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.”
“Holding internet platforms accountable for the words or actions of their users is one thing, and the federal precedent uniformly dictates that section 230 does not allow it,” the judge explained. “Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking.”
“We will continue our fight”
Justice Blackrock went on to note that Congress had amended Section 230 to explicitly exempt crimes like human trafficking from the civil liability that tech companies and social media platforms otherwise enjoy against suits pertaining to the actions or content of other users.
Still, Section 230 does provide a measure of protection that can’t be denied, hence the judge’s decision to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims of “negligence, negligent undertaking, gross negligence, and products liability” against Facebook, while allowing the claims regarding the facilitation of human trafficking to proceed.
In a statement on the ruling, Facebook said it was still “reviewing the decision and considering potential next steps,” Fox Business reported.
“Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not allowed on Facebook,” the statement added. “We will continue our fight against the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
“Their day in court”
Meanwhile, attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case celebrated the partial victory.
“Our clients have fought for over two years for the chance to bring their case,” attorney Annie McAdams said in a statement. “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.”