In a blow to Big Tech’s claims of complete immunity from liability under Section 230, the Texas Supreme Court ruled last week Facebook can be held liable for state civil claims of sex trafficking on its platform.
Far more Americans are familiar with Section 230 now than when it was created by Congress in 1996, as it has become a key battlefield in the policy wrangling over Big Tech. The tiny provision was designed to “clean up the internet” by incentivizing tech platforms to freely moderate content without being subject to liability for content posted by users.
Although much furor centers around Section 230’s role in platforms’ speech censorship and content bias, expansive judicial interpretations of Section 230 have also allowed Big Tech to escape accountability for some of the truly horrific conduct that its platforms facilitate.
Big Tech’s Role in Enabling Trafficking
In this particular case, Facebook claimed Section 230 meant the platform bore no responsibility for its services being used to traffic young girls into sex slavery. In three combined cases, 14- and 15-year-old girls were contacted on Facebook (or on Instagram, which Facebook owns) by adult users.
In one instance, an adult male told a 15-year-old she was “pretty enough to be a model,” and suggested she pursue a modeling career. After the young girl confided in him about a recent argument with her mother, the user proposed they meet in person.
Shortly after meeting him, the plaintiff was photographed and her pictures posted on the now-defunct Backpage.com, advertising her for prostitution. She was “raped, beaten … and forced into further sex trafficking.”
The other two cases present similar fact patterns: girls were contacted through Facebook properties, groomed, and lured to in-person meetings, only to be repeatedly raped and ensnared in sex trafficking operations. In one example, after a 14-year-old was rescued, traffickers continued to use her profile to lure other children into trafficking. When the girl’s mother reported these activities to Facebook “through multiple channels,” the platform never responded.
Facebook argued in court that, under Section 230, it should face no responsibility whatsoever for its role
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