Responding to civil actions involving teenage sex trafficking victims from Houston, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that lawsuits can be filed against Facebook for the conduct of pimps who use the social media site to prey on children.
“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 state Supreme Court’s majority wrote in the ruling on Friday, The Epoch Times reported.
Facebook and similar platforms use Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, one of the clauses of which states that what users say or write online is not akin to a publisher conveying the same message, to protect themselves from lawsuits over what users post online. However, the same clause that shields online platforms from liability is often used to ban conservative viewpoints.
“Holding internet platforms accountable for words or actions of their users is one thing, and the federal precedent uniformly dictates that section 230 does not allow it,” the state Supreme Court ruled. “Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking.”
The ruling comes after three Houston-area teenage trafficking victims filed lawsuits alleging that their traffickers used Facebook’s messaging service to prey on them. They sued the California-based social media site for negligence and product liability.
Facebook told Fox Business they were considering “next steps.”
“We’re reviewing the decision and considering potential next steps. Sex trafficking is abhorrent and not allowed on Facebook,” a spokesman was quoted as saying. “We will continue our fight against the spread of this content and the predators who engage in it.”
Prosecutors said that Facebook had failed to do more to block sex traffickers from using the platform.
Annie McAdams, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called it a groundbreaking ruling, saying this is the first case to beat Facebook on its arguments under Section 230.
“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,” Houston Chronicle quoted McAdams as saying.
“We believe trafficking survivors in Texas can expose and hold accountable businesses such as Facebook that benefit from these crimes of exploitation,” she added, referring to an anti-trafficking provision under the 2009 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code called Chapter 98.
The state law allows legal action against those who benefit from sex trafficking but the plaintiffs can’t pursue claims under federal law, Justice James Blacklock of the Texas Supreme Court said, according to Bloomberg.
Facebook appealed to the Supreme Court after it couldn’t get the complaints quashed in district court and the 14th Court of Appeals in Texas.