A Texas appeals court has rejected Facebook’s efforts to halt multiple lawsuits accusing the social media juggernaut of knowingly permitting sex traffickers to recruit through its various platforms.
The lawsuits were brought by three Houston women recruited as 13-,14- and 16-year-olds through Facebook apps. The social media company appealed the rulings to the 14th Court of Appeal. The appeals court issued three parallel rulings all reflecting a 3-2 majority. In each case there was a dissenting ruling from Justice Tracy Christopher, who found Facebook should be cloaked in federal statutory immunity.
The biggest story of 2017? To my mind, there is no contest — the broad emergence of an awareness that the irresponsibility masquerading as Internet freedom represented a threat to global societies and to cherished aspects of our humanity, and that a course correction was badly needed.
While recognition of the fact that rewarding lack of accountability would likely incentivize anti-social and illegal conduct took longer than it should have, such an awareness came to fruition throughout 2017. Whether motivated by concerns about sex trafficking or the prevalence of other internet-enabled crimes, fake news, foreign government interference in elections, monopoly or monopsony power, or the perceived political or cultural biases of platforms, the question at the end of 2017 wasn’t whether the current legal framework for platform responsibility should be amended, but how.
It became clear that the twin pillars upholding the current lack of accountability in the internet ecosystem — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and Section 512 of the DMCA, each of which was adopted at the dawn of the commercial internet, would need to be reexamined and a new framework established.
What should govern the behavior of huge multinationals like Google: the law Google makes for itself, or the laws that people make?
The former view has been dubbed cyber-libertarianism. In 2015, Canadian judges delivered that particular school of thought a blow, in the case of Equustek Solutions, a network equipment manufacturer in British Columbia, Canada.
The year before, Google was told by a Canadian court to remove search results that linked to knockoff versions of Equustek’s products. The web giant offered to strip the links from its Canadian site but that wasn’t enough for Equustek, which wanted them deleted worldwide.
The California internet giant eventually complied, removing scores of links worldwide, but was upset it had to remove the links globally, claiming this censorship had little effect on Equustek’s rivals. Google appealed in 2015, and lost.
In 2017, the internet goliath went to Canada’s Supreme Court to end the Earth-wide blackout, arguing the Canadian judgment clashed with free-speech protections in other nations. It lost again. The Supremes said it was purely theoretical that the removal of the links would trample on other countries’ laws. If a jurisdiction outside Canada is unhappy with the Canadian court’s decision then that jurisdiction should speak up so it can be considered by Canada’s Supremes, Google was told.
And so on Monday this week, Google asked a California court to decide whether or not the Canadian case’s outcome runs counter to America’s First Amendment. In effect, Google is asking US judges to reject their Canadian counterparts’ findings, allowing it to challenge the search result ban.