Supreme Court’s Thomas calls for fresh look at granting broad immunity to Facebook

The Supreme Court should reconsider whether federal law grants social media sites like Facebook broad legal immunity when used to commit crimes, Justice Clarence Thomas said Monday.

Thomas’ comments came as the court declined to appeal a Texas woman who was friends at age 15 with a man on Facebook who turned out to be a sex trafficker. After the then-teenager told him she had a falling out with her mother, he told her she could make enough money as a model to have her own apartment, according to her lawsuit.

He convinced her to let him come get her, and within hours she was raped, beaten, photographed, and forced into sex trafficking. Facebook should have known he was a criminal, his lawsuit argued, because his post was full of photos and other content that were clear signs of human trafficking.

After being rescued by law enforcement, she sued Facebook, but the Texas Supreme Court said a provision of federal law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, grants social media sites and other internet service providers immunity from lawsuits arising out of anything. posted by a user.

Thomas said the interpretation of the law is too broad and goes beyond what the law actually says. Such a broad reading, he said, leads courts to dismiss claims against internet companies for failing to warn consumers of product defects or for failing to take reasonable steps to protect users from malicious activities of other users.

Thomas said it’s hard to see why the law “should protect Facebook from liability for its own acts and omissions.”

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain Texas’ appeal, citing technical obstacles that prevented the court from having jurisdiction, and Thomas agreed that the court should not have taken his specific case. But he said it “should address the appropriate scope of immunity” in an appropriate case.

Thomas has made similar comments in previous cases and also said social media companies should not be immune from lawsuits that claim they improperly restrict conservative viewpoints.

Facebook urged the court not to take the Texas case. In the 25 years since Congress enacted the law, “federal appeals courts and state supreme courts have consistently held that Section 230 prohibits claims to impose liability on service providers. interactive computing services for third-party content,” the company said.