On July 16, a supposed blind date turned into a frightening assault for one Greenville man using the dating app “PlentyOfFish”.
Instead of being greeted by a mystery woman, the man was greeted with a pistol grip to the face — courtesy of two assailants who lured him to the site of an apartment complex. Following the incident, the Greenville Police Department issued a warning to be careful when using these apps — especially when it comes to strangers. Attorney Sam Tooker was recently interviewed by WYFF4 News regarding provider liability for third party content. You can find a link to that story and video here.
While the news is focused on the facts of the case, a lawyer will be interested in the liability of this case. There’s a real argument to be made here the app “PlentyOfFish” was negligent in their handling of the victim’s personal information, but there’s a big roadblock in the way of proving this liability — section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
The CDA was enacted in 1996 to address Congress’s concerns regarding pornography and deviance on the internet. The portion related to indecency on the internet were gutted by the case of Reno v. ACLU. Congress then amended the act to remove the unconstitutional provisions. What was left was Section 230.
Websites (“providers”) have relied on section 230 to inoculate them from liability for the information provided by third party “information content providers.” Providers have almost always escaped liability for third-party content because of the CDA. Some examples include:
- Gay dating site GRINDR avoids suit in a harassment case.
- Local review site Yelp doesn’t have to remove inflammatory posts.
But recently we’ve seen some progress in these websites being held accountable for their inaction in regulating unsafe behavior on their apps. Beckman vs. Match.com alleges Match.com is liable for the violent assault Ms. Beckman suffered as a result of the site pairing her with a loon (he eventually confessed to murdering another woman). While originally dismissed, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of the Plaintiff’s negligence claim that Match.com had a duty to warn her of the proposed suitor’s dangerous proclivities. The Plaintiff’s negligence cause of action was subsequently dismissed, but premise behind the appellate court decision still holds—that Section 230 of the CDA is not a blanket protection against civil liability in favor of internet “providers.”
If you are injured as a result of using a social media application, website, or other “provider,” then there is hope. Our courts appear to be limiting the protections traditionally afforded “providers” pursuant to the Communications Decency Act. We would encourage anyone who has been injured as a result of the use of an online product or social media provider to contact us, so we can discuss the merits of their case and the likelihood that they will be able to recover from the “provider” for their injuries.