Tech companies have avoided a lot of legal consequences, due to a 1996 law that protects them from lawsuits. However, Houston personal injury attorney Annie McAdams is hoping to change all of this.
McAdams is starting a legal fight against Facebook and similar tech companies and accusing them of helping facilitate the sex trafficking of minors. In a series of different lawsuits in Texas, Missouri, Georgia, and California, McAdams is using this new argument to fight the law and is finding some success early on. This year, a judge in Texas has denied Facebook’s attempts to dismiss the lawsuits.
This law says in Section 230 that Internet companies, just like Facebook, aren’t liable for what users post. McAdams’s argument is that in the case of pimps using social media in order to lure children into prostitution, there should be separate laws that require the tech companies to warn users of the risk and do more in order to prevent it. She says that there isn’t another industry that has the luxury of protection and isn’t held accountable for anything they have caused.
McAdams’s lawsuits are also part of a boarder effort to use the courts to end this law that governs the Internet. This law has been debated on the campaign trail and in Washington but there isn’t legislation that is expected anytime soon in order to weaken it. Instead, there are lawyers that are pushing ahead with lawsuits in order to challenge the protection of Internet companies. In the years past, the rulings have actually strengthened the law but now the cracks are beginning to show. For example, in 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that the law didn’t protect a modeling website that was used by two men to lure women they subsequently drugged and sexually assaulted. It was ruled that the site’s owners knew of this threat and failed to warn women.
Facebook has asked a judge in Houston to dismiss two of McAdams’s lawsuits due to the immunity offered under Section 230. However, the judged denied the motions. Facebook then responded to this decision with a 50-page petition. The approach of McAdams could prove significant and if the Texas rulings hold up, it could persuade other judges and even draw the Supreme Court to weigh in.