High Court Declines To Hear Facebook Sex Trafficking Case

High Court Declines To Hear Facebook Sex Trafficking Case

Although the Supreme Court on Monday passed on hearing the case of a woman who accuses Facebook of facilitating and benefiting from child sex trafficking, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the immunity afforded to online platforms should be revisited under the right circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case accusing Facebook of facilitating child sex trafficking. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) In a statement accompanying high court’s denial of certiorari to a Jane Doe from Texas who was raped and trafficked by a sexual predator she met on Facebook when she was 15, Thomas said that although the case was not appropriate for court review, Congress should revisit the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides broad immunity for online companies for content published by their users. “Here, the Texas Supreme Court afforded publisher immunity even though Facebook allegedly ‘knows its system facilitates human traffickers in identifying and cultivating victims,’ but has nonetheless ‘failed to take any reasonable steps to mitigate the use of Facebook by human traffickers’ because doing so would cost the company users — and the advertising revenue those users generate,” Thomas said. “Here, the Texas Supreme Court recognized that ‘[t]he United States Supreme Court — or better yet, Congress — may soon resolve the burgeoning debate about whether the federal courts have thus far correctly interpreted Section 230,'” Justice Thomas said. “Assuming Congress does not step in to clarify §230’s scope, we should do so in an appropriate case. Unfortunately, this is not such a case. We have jurisdiction to review only ‘[f]inal judgments or decrees’ of state courts.” Because Doe’s petition dealt with the dismissal of one of her claims while another was allowed to proceed, the litigation was not final, Justice Thomas said. Section 230 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In the suit, Doe claims Facebook failed to warn her about the dangers of child sex trafficking and did not take appropriate measures to fight it on its website. According to her brief, she came into contact with a sex trafficker on Facebook when she was 15. She ran away from home after a fight with her mother and met the predator, who raped her and forced her into prostitution. She eventually escaped, and later sued Facebook in Texas state court. The case made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, which allowed her statutory sex trafficking claims to proceed but dismissed her common law claims of negligence and product liability, finding that Section 230 granted immunity. Doe then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Thomas said Monday that “It is hard to see why the protection §230(c)(1) grants publishers against being held strictly liable for third parties’ content should protect Facebook from liability for its own ‘acts and omissions.'” “At the very least, before we close the door on such serious charges, ‘we should be certain that is what the law demands,'” he said. Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Doe is represented by Annie McAdams of Annie McAdams PC, David E. Harris and Jeffrey H. Richter of Sico Hoelscher Harris LLP, Warren W. Harris and Walter A. Simons of Bracewell LLP and Jeffrey M. Harris and Taylor A.R. Meehan of Consovoy McCarthy PLLC. Facebook is represented by Allyson Ho of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The case is Doe v. Facebook Inc., case number 21-459, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

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