The legal shield for social media, known as Section 230 of the U.S. Communication Decency Act, appears to be faltering and not shielding companies for what happens on their platforms. For decades, these U.S. Codes have protected social media companies from the ramifications of what individuals did online. According to an article published 14 July 2022 on Politico, there has been a sharp shift with public opinion on how these legal shields should be handled. Additionally, court rulings in recent years have started favoring the victims – especially with cases involving children.
According to a sex trafficking case against Facebook that occured in 2021, the victims moved ahead with the lawsuit because the social media platform violated a provision of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. The three trafficking victims sued the platform for negligence and product liability. The victims said Facebook failed them by not preventing sex trafficking from occuring on their platform. The attorney for Facebook mentioned that while trafficking on their platform is not allowed, what users say and/or do is not the same as a publisher (Facebook) conveying that message. The Texas Supreme Court stated, “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”.
All of the court proceedings against major social media companies are “turning the tide” for lawmakers and advocates to support victims.
All of the court proceedings against major social media companies are “turning the tide” for lawmakers and advocates to support victims. In California, these individuals want a state law against social media companies that would authorize lawsuits if it shows teen victims being hooked to their products. A new online privacy bill is making its way through the state legislature “and could lead to an overhaul of national safety standards for websites likely to be accessed by kids”. The California Age-Appropriate Design Code would impact any digital product that children are likely to access.
While there are individuals that wish to see social media platforms be held accountable, there are also those who see these decisions as going too far. Groups in California, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), want bills and laws that would allow liability lawsuits against social media companies to be clearer. The EFF believes that the new bill would have companies collect more information on children, such as birthdays, addresses, and government IDs. Due to this reason, the EFF will not support the bill unless the age is lowered to thirteen.
- Bidar, Musadiq. 2022. “California lawmakers push ahead with sweeping children’s online privacy bill.” CBS News.
- D’Angelo, Bob. 2021. “Texas court: Facebook can be held liable for sex trafficking predators.” KIRO 7.
- Luthi, Susannah. 2022. “A legal shield for social media is showing cracks.” Politico.