I found a great article about Herrick v. Grindr, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review. The issue is the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Section 230 is 23 years old. It was adopted to ensure that conversation on the internet and social media would be wide open and robust. Very simply, the law provides that online forums – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – aren’t liable for what third parties post on the sites. That means that the deep pockets can’t be sued for what appears on the site. That avoids the chilling effect that would arise from threats of lawsuits.
In that respect, Section 230 has worked. Maybe too well. Conversation on social media is robust, open and ubiquitous. But sometimes it’s false, misleading and threatening. Which causes some to wonder if it’s time to reel the law in.
The Herrick v. Grindr case may be the vehicle. The question posed is whether a social media site (in this case Grindr, a gay dating app) can be liable for a person’s safety. In Herrick’s case, he was the victim of an ex-boyfriend who put Herrick’s profile on Grindr and invited random stranger to have sex with him. Herrick found himself being the object of unwanted attention, some of it threatening.
Grindr has successfully argued (it won at the trial and appellate levels) that it is protected by Section 230 – since the harm flows from the third party content. Herrick’s unwanted visitors came to see him solely because of the content his ex-boyfriend posted. No brainer, right?
But Herrick sees it differently. For him, this isn’t about the speech, it’s about the action it inspired. He’s not suing for the content, but rather for Grindr’s alleged negligence in protecting Herrick. His argument is that Grindr is a defectively designed and manufactured product because it’s easily exploited—presumably by spoofing apps available from Google and Apple. And it doesn’t appear to have the ability to identify and exclude abusive users.