As the years roll on, the ills of social media become clearer to society at large. And, it is now more acutely dangerous than to our children, and in fact, some children have incurred catastrophic injuries and abuses as a result of their use of social media. However, when Loudoun County, Virginia, residents want to sue social media companies for these injuries and abuses, they run up against the liability wall of Section 230, but product liability law may be a way around Section 230.
Communications Decency Act
Section 230 refers to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. This section shields websites, including social media websites from the actions of their users in Reston, Virginia, and across the United States, among many other changes to communications laws. According to web companies, Section 230 is largely responsible for the Internet’s growth because it allowed websites to grow without worrying about liability from their user’s content.
Emerging case law
Cases against Omegle.com LLC, and Snap Inc. are examples of this emerging caselaw. Omegle randomly matches users’ video feeds in their application and SnapChat is a person-to-person photo and video sharing application. Each is accused of facilitating the sexual abuse of minors by each app’s adult users.
SnapChat’s federal lawsuit in Texas was dismissed based on Section 230. However, Omegle is still fighting their case in Oregon. In that case, the Federal judge agreed that Omegle should be treated like the manufacturer or maker of a defective product, not like the host of user-made content protected by Section 230.
Product maker, not just social media
Essentially, the Oregon federal judge in the Omegle case found weight in the argument that the social media company could be found to be the designer and creator of a dangerous product that harmed its user. This is an important distinction because it is treating the social media company’s application as a product, and the social media company, as the product’s maker, liable under product liability law, instead of a publisher shielded by Section 230. As these lawsuits gain traction, they could provide an avenue for those in Fairfax County, Virginia, harmed by social media companies where there was no avenue for redress in the past.