Richard Drew / AP
Three young men boarded their car in Walworth County, Wisconsin, in May 2017.They are set to drive fast through a stretch of field and share their escapes on social media.
As the 17-year-old accelerated to 123 mph, one passenger opened a Snapchat.
His parents said their son wanted to record the experience using one of the app’s filters that recorded real-life speed, hoping for the engagement and interest of followers on the messaging app.
It was one of the last things the three did before their cars ran off the road and crashed into a tree, killing them all.
Is Snapchat partially blamed? The boy’s parents thought so. And in a surprising decision on Tuesday, the federal appeals court agreed.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sparked intense debate among law watchers about the future of a decades-old law that shields technology companies from civil lawsuits.
Personal Injury Attorney: ‘It’s Victory Day’
Boy’s parents sue Snapchat maker Snap, Inc., following tragedy They accused the company of taking some responsibility. The district court responded that courts often act when technology platforms are sued in civil cases: by dismissing the case. The judge claimed that social media companies with reduced immunity were subject to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The law provides technology companies with legal protection from defamation and other civil lawsuits for what people post on the web, no matter how dangerous it is.
But the reversal of the appeals court paved the way for an all-powerful law, saying it had no effect, as the case was not about what someone posted on Snapchat, but the app design itself.
Parents accused Snapchat’s speed filter of attracting youngsters to drive at alarming speeds. And a federal court appeared, the court said, that Snap should be treated like any other company that produces products that could lead to injury or harm to consumers.
“Snap designs Snapchat’s inconclusive reward system and speed filter and make those aspects of Snapchat available to users over the Internet,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote to the court. Based on the assumption that the manufacturer has ‘A duty to exercise caution in providing products without the risk of unreasonable injury or harm to the public.’
Wardlaw continued: The “CDA immunity”, which refers to section 230, is “not applicable in this case”.
Carrie Goldberg, a victim rights attorney specializing in online harassment, brought a similar product liability lawsuit against Grindr dating app, but a federal appeal, a second round of the US ruling, denied in. Section 230
To see a different federal appeals court, on the other hand, could open up more cases to challenge technology companies over flawed platform designs leading to predictable dangers, she said.
“It was a victory day to see that internet companies could be held accountable for defective design products,” Goldberg said in an interview. “The biggest hurdle in personal injury law is coming up before a jury, and this could lead to such a situation for multibillion-dollar technology companies.”
But legal experts who study online speech are increasingly skeptical, saying it could lead to more lawsuits trying to lower Section 230, but the chances of success are small.
“It is inviting more efforts to test how narrow the Ninth Circuit thinks Section 230 is. But that might be the case, ”said Jeff Kosseff, a US Naval Academy law professor and author of the book on Section 230. ‘What about other product flaws?’
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University who studies technology law, pointed out a similar case with Snap taking place in a state court in Georgia.
In that case, the appeals court found that Snap could be sued for harm caused by the speed filter.
But when the court ruled that another review, it found Snap could not be held liable for any misuse of the product. (The messaging app will use a warning “Do not snap and drive” with filters)
A Snap spokeswoman declined to comment.
Increase the chances of a Supreme Court hearing.
The parent’s case is now returned to the lower court. In the same way as the Georgia case, Snapchat avoids any legal liability, but if a court ruling agrees to hold Snap liable, that could matter, Goldman said.
“So we are unclear the impact of this opinion,” he said.
The Ninth Circuit has released a number of reviews that strongly support technology companies in securing widespread legal immunity.He said that now there is a back and forth in Section 230, the legal landscape is complex.
“They disagree with themselves,” he said, so there was a lot of whiplash in the ninth round of jurisprudence.
And, he said, in some cases where it was found that Section 230 was not a legal shield against civil cases, the lower court eventually sided with technology companies.
“I don’t think this comment will open Pandora’s speech box.” You can sue the website for how it was designed in any situation. Said Goldman.
The reason Goldman said was because the Ninth Circuit ruled that Snap’s being a publisher was basically unrelated to allegations that the messaging app induced malicious activity.
But some people tend to use Snapchat’s speed filter only when they want to publish their posts.
This is important because under Section 230 Snapchat cannot be held liable. (Or treated as “Publisher or Speaker”) for what users post to the platform.
“The Ninth Circuit is walking down a clear line of the differences between the things people do to create content and the fact that content is very important just because it is published,” Goldman said.
For Kosseff, the ninth circuit is now separated from the second circuit with a possible solution for holding a responsible tech company, potentially making it even more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh something in court like the At least one justice Clarence Thomas has shown. Eagerness to do
“This increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will receive a Section 230 hearing,” Kosseff said. “We have an increasing distinction in how courts treat these kinds of challenges.”