The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Facebook is not a “lawless no-man’s-land”, and can be held liable for sex traffickers using its platform to prey on children.
The ruling means Facebook could be held accountable following three lawsuits in Texas, which involved teenage sex traffic victims who met their pimps through the social media platform’s messaging functions, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle.
Three women who say they were forced as teenagers into prostitution by abusers on the site will now be allowed to go forward with a suit against the company following the ruling.
In the suit, originally filed in 2018, the three unnamed women accused the company of running “an unrestricted platform to stalk, exploit, recruit, groom, and extort children into the sex trade.”
One of the young women said she was recruited for a “modelling” job on Facebook at age 15, then raped, beaten and forced into prostitution. Two others were allegedly “groomed” as underage teens and then forced to become prostitutes by men who contacted them through Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
The social media company is now being sued for negligence and product liability, as prosecutors say it failed to warn about or block sex trafficking from taking place on its platform.
The lawsuits also allege that Facebook benefited from the sexual exploitation of trafficking victims.
Facebook’s legal team, however, reportedly argued that the company is protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which states that online platforms are not responsible for third-party content posted on their site.
The court however ruled that Section 230 does not “create a lawless no-man’s-land on the internet” in which states are powerless to impose liability on websites that “knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking”.
The court observed that the law does not hold internet platforms accountable for the words or actions of their users.
However: “Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking,” the opinion continued.
The ruling added that Congress had recently amended Section 230 to add the possibility of civil liability for platforms that violate state and federal human-trafficking laws, reports the Houston Chronicle.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, one sex trafficking victim revealed how a predator used Facebook to lure her away from her family when she was just 15 years old. The woman is now suing Facebook, alleging that the social media giant fails to stop sex trafficking on its platform.
Online commentators are saying that, “If they (Facebook) can censor political views they disagree with and ban the posters, then they can certainly keep a handle on child sex traffickers. But they choose not to.”
Others have noted that, “Facebook is now blocking any reporting regarding its complicity in sex trafficking.”