Section 230 Safe Harbor

The government in Indonesia has warned the world’s biggest social media providers that they risk being banned in that country if they don’t block pornography and other content deemed obscene.

A member of the House of Lords has proposed an amendment to the U.K.’s data protection bill that would subject technology companies to “minimum standards

A federal appeals court in Miami held that a judge needn’t necessarily recuse herself from a case being argued by a lawyer with whom the judge is merely Facebook “friends.”

Bills in both houses of Congress propose amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to clarify that it doesn’t insulate website operators from liability

03_April_SociallyAware_thumbnailThe latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this edition, we explore the threat to U.S. jobs posed by rapid advances in emerging technologies; we examine a Federal Trade Commission report on how companies engaging in cross-device tracking can stay on the right side of the law; we take

SociallyAware_Vol8Issue1_Thumb2The latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this edition,we examine a spate of court decisions that appear to rein in the historically broad scope of the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 safe harbor for website operators; we outline ten steps companies can take to be better prepared for

Speedometer_166009527We have been monitoring a trend of cases narrowing the immunity provided to website operators under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).  A recent decision by a state court in Georgia, however, demonstrates that Section 230 continues to be applied expansively in at least some cases.

The case, Maynard v. McGee, arose from an automobile collision in Clayton County, Georgia.  Christal McGee, the defendant, had allegedly been using Snapchat’s “speed filter” feature, which tracks a car’s speed in real-time and superimposes the speed on a mobile phone’s camera view. According to the plaintiffs, one of whom had been injured in the collision, McGee was using the speed filter when the accident occurred, with the intention of posting a video on Snapchat showing how fast she was driving.  The plaintiffs sued McGee and Snapchat for negligence, and Snapchat moved to dismiss based on the immunity provided by Section 230.

The plaintiffs alleged that Snapchat was negligent because it knew its users would use the speed filter “in a manner that might distract them from obeying traffic or safety laws” and that “users might put themselves or others in harm’s way in order to capture a Snap.” To demonstrate that Snapchat had knowledge, the plaintiffs pointed to a previous automobile collision that also involved the use of Snapchat’s speed filter.  The plaintiffs claimed that “[d]espite Snapchat’s actual knowledge of the danger from using its product’s speed filter while driving at excessive speeds, Snapchat did not remove or restrict access to the speed filter.”
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A rear view of a businessman in a suit, with an upheld umbrella, standing in a large field during a thunderstorm. Lightning is seen descending from a gray and cloudy sky.

2016 has been a tough year for a lot of reasons, most of which are outside the scope of this blog (though if you’d like to hear our thoughts about Bowie, Prince or Leonard Cohen, feel free to drop us a line). But one possible victim of this annus horribilis is well within the ambit of Socially Aware: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Often hailed as the law that gave us the modern Internet, CDA Section 230 provides immunity against liability for website operators for certain claims arising from third-party or user-generated content. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Section 230 “the most important law protecting Internet speech,” and companies including Google, Yelp and Facebook have benefited from the protections offered by the law, which was enacted 20 years ago.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Internet publishers and Section 230, particularly over the past 18 months. Plaintiffs are constantly looking for chinks in Section 230’s armor and, in an unusually large number of recent cases, courts have held that Section 230 did not apply, raising the question of whether the historical trend towards broadening the scope of Section 230 immunity may now be reversing. This article provides an overview of recent cases that seem to narrow the scope of Section 230.
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PrintAs we noted in our recent post on the Ninth Circuit case Kimzey v. Yelp! Inc., in the right circumstances, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) still provides robust protection against liability for website operators despite the unusually large number of decisions this year seemingly narrowing the scope of the statute. Defendants notched another Section 230 win recently in Manchanda v. Google, a case in the Southern District of New York. The case began in May 2016 when Rahul Manchanda, an attorney, filed a complaint alleging that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft harmed his reputation by indexing certain websites that described him in negative terms.

Manchanda asserted various claims against the three defendants, including defamation, libel, slander, tortious interference with contract, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of loyalty, unfair trade practices, false advertising, unlawful trespass, civil RICO, unjust enrichment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and trademark infringement. Manchanda sought injunctive relief requiring the defendants to “de-index or remove the offending websites from their search engines” in addition to damages.

The court made quick work of dismissing most of Manchanda’s claims on Section 230 grounds, emphasizing that the CDA “immunizes search engines from civil liability for reputational damage resulting from third-party content that they aggregate and republish.” The court went on to note that “[t]his immunity attaches regardless of the specific claim asserted against the search engine, so long as the claim arises from the publication or distribution of content produced by a third party and the alleged injury involves damage to a plaintiff’s reputation based on that content.”
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2016 has been a challenging year for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and the website operators who depend on it for protection against liability stemming from user-generated content. An unusually large number of cases this year have resulted in decisions holding that the defendant website operators were not entitled to immunity under Section 230. For example, as we’ve discussed recently, in Hassel v. Bird, the California Court of Appeal held that Section 230 did not prevent the court from ordering Yelp to remove from its website allegedly defamatory reviews posted by users, even though Yelp was not a party in the underlying defamation suit.

We are working on an article surveying some of the recent cases holding that Section 230 did not apply. But in the meantime, it is important to remember that Section 230 remains a powerful shield against liability and that defendants continue to wield it successfully in many cases. The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Kimzey v. Yelp is one such case.

Kimzey arose from two negative Yelp reviews that user “Sarah K” posted in September 2011 about Douglas Kimzey’s locksmith business in the Seattle area. Sarah K’s reviews were extremely negative and rated Kimzey one out of five stars in Yelp’s multiple-choice star rating system. In all caps, she warned Yelpers that “THIS WAS BY FAR THE WORST EXPERIENCE I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED WITH A LOCKSMITH. DO NOT GO THROUGH THIS COMPANY . . . CALL THIS BUSINESS AT YOUR OWN RISK.”
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A recent California court decision involving Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) is creating considerable concern among social media companies and other website operators.

As we’ve discussed in past blog posts, CDA Section 230 has played an essential role in the growth of the Internet by shielding website operators from defamation and

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The federal government will now check the social media history of prospective employees before granting them security clearance.

One expert says C-level executives shouldn’t entrust millennials with their companies’ social media feeds.

Federal court refuses to dismiss a lawsuit against Google for allegedly removing sites