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The San Francisco Chronicle (7/2, B3, Egelko) reports, "Girls who were sexually assaulted by men they first contacted on MySpace cannot seek damages from the social-networking Web site, which is protected from liability by federal law, a state appeals court has ruled. The decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles rejected claims by the parents of four girls who were 13 to 15 years old when they posted their profiles on MySpace." The parents "argued that the girls could have been protected if MySpace had used age-verification software or had taken other steps to shield their accounts from sexual predators. But the court said Tuesday that the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act prohibits suits against any interactive computer site that merely posts messages written by others."

Section 230 of The 1996 federal Communications Decency Act provides:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (a common name for Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996) is a landmark piece of Internet legislation in the United States, codified at 47 U.S.C. § 230. Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information provided by others:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

In analyzing the availability of the immunity offered by this provision, courts generally apply a three-prong test. A defendant must satisfy each of the three prongs to gain the benefit of the immunity:

  1. The defendant must be a "provider or user" of an "interactive computer service."
  2. The cause of action asserted by the plaintiff must "treat" the defendant "as the publisher or speaker" of the harmful information at issue.
  3. The information must be "provided by another information content provider," i.e., the defendant must not be the "information content provider" of the harmful information at issue.

Is this right? Do you agree or do you think that the social media companies share responsibility for bringing evil and vulnerable together? If it was club in your town that brought young women into contact with potential rapists would you say that is okay? My example looks a lot like many singles bars that are perfectly acceptable in our society.

One final note. The purpose of the Act is listed at the beginning:

To promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies.

It seems that the purpose was to make more money for the social technology companies. This ruling will help accomplish that goal.

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