Court Ruling May Narrow Section 230 Protection

from the exempt-exemptions dept

The government's attempts to regulate the internet are almost always misguided, but section 230 of the Communications Decency Act stands out as a rare instance of foresight, as it specifies that website proprietors aren't, in general, legally liable for content posted by users. As more and more sites are built on user-generated content, this protection has only grown in importance. However, a decision handed down today by the Ninth Circuit may narrow section 230 protection (via Above The Law) to some extent. At issue is whether the site Roommates.com is on the hook for ads posted by its users that violate the Fair Housing Act by specifying the race and gender of the desired roommate. If you'll recall, Craigslist faced the exact same issue, but was cleared, so you might think that the same would apply in here. However, in this case, the court ruled that the site is not necessarily protected because it provides a form that specifically invites users to fill out a potentially illegal roommate preference. The court reasoned, by analogy, that a hypothetical site called harrassthem.com would not warrant protection if it specifically asked that its users furnish defamatory information on individuals. However, the court did say that Roommates.com could not be held liable for comments on the site that were separate from the forms it offered to users. It's still not clear what's going to happen here, or what this means for other sites that depend on section 230 immunity, though it would seem to have little effect on most sites that simply have an open comments section. As for Roommates.com, it's likely it will try to avoid the problem by letting its users post free-form roommate ads, so that it's not suggesting anything illegal.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2007 @ 3:10pm

    Actually I do believe that gender is an exception for the specific case of house- and room- mates and you can be picky about that.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonmous Fair Housing Person, May 15th, 2007 @ 3:31pm

    Re:

    While there are several exemptions to Federal Fair Housing Act regarding housemates, etc., it is still generally illegal to advertise those preferences

     

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  3.  
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    Anonmous Fair Housing Person, May 15th, 2007 @ 3:42pm

    Only thing I see wrong here is that the Federal Fair Housing Act applies to non-corporate entities.

     

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  4.  
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    WTF, May 15th, 2007 @ 4:07pm

    How does this make any sense? People aren't posting on Roommates.com advertising that they have lots for rent, but only to men. The only violation of the Fair Housing Act would be if the landlord discriminated by refusing to rent to a particular gender/race/etc.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2007 @ 4:08pm

    Race is questionable but gender is a reasonable deal-breaker.
    Single women just out of their parents house might not want to bunk with a bunch of men they don't know, not sure why it would be illegal to say 'single woman seeking single women roomates'?
    Stupid laws going to far to protect and restrict something that doesn't need to be limited or guarded against.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2007 @ 5:39pm

    Site Name Also a Consideration?

    The court reasoned, by analogy, that a hypothetical site called harrassthem.com would not warrant protection if it specifically asked that its users furnish defamatory information on individuals.
    So, by its analogy, is the court also suggesting that the very name of a site, such as harrassthem.com, figures into whether it warrants protection?

     

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  7.  
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    Chris, May 15th, 2007 @ 6:34pm

    ...stupid courts telling me I cant hate people.

    So sick and tired of people telling me that I can't hate people. I’m by no means racist, but certain races do have tendencies to follow their cultural backgrounds. So If I'm a Asian guy and say I only wish to live with Asian people, because I don't want to be FORCED by the federal government to HAVE TO ACCEPT someone of a different race, then it should be my right to do so. Simply by saying I don't want Hispanics or blacks or whites can help me cut out on HAVING to interview people I know I'm almost 75% sure I wouldn't want to live with. If in this hypothetical situation I'm to assume that they're either in a gang, some stupid wanna be rapper, or a punk stoner, then I save myself the hassle. Stereotypes exist for a reason, not because everyone in the worlds ignorant. Besides last I checked only my landlord has to accept the fair housing regulations. Once he signs the lease over to me and allows me to sublet to anyone I choose, it's of my prerogative to discriminate as much as I want because my credit's on the line, no one else’s.

     

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  8.  
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    figures, May 15th, 2007 @ 6:54pm

    It figures. . .

    Quite simply, people looking for a roommate are looking for someone that they will get along with and should be exempt from the fair housing act, however landlords who are looking for tennants should still be required to abide by the law.

    By that logic any site that allows a person to post for a roommate/housemate should be able to gather whatever information that will help find a compatiable person to share housing. Any landlord caught using the site to get around the fair housing act should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Lastly,roomates.com, or for that matter many of the sites out there for finding housing/roomates, simply lack usability and are overcomplicated. These sites ask for login information and initial communications are only available through their site (not to one's e-mail). That and there are too many different sites basiclly offering the same service in different unusable ways. Personally I use CL, but even CL is limited to the people who use it/know about it, like any other site out there.

     

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  9.  
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    Gary, May 16th, 2007 @ 6:38am

    Looking for a roommate?

    The problem with this type of ruling is that it assumes that White Males are deliberately trying to keep (insert minority here) from getting fair treatment. While there is a certainly reason to have a fair housing standard to prevent this from happening, it doesn't apply here. Instead of making it easier for a minority to find a place to live, this makes it harder. The reason that a white guy wants a white guy for a roommate is often cultural. Is it a huge surprise that most black guys are going to want a black guy as a roommate for the same reason? Imagine if you're a Korean Female about 40 years old looking for a similar roommate. If all the gender, race and age criteria are excluded, think about how many calls or visits you'd have to make to find the situation you are looking for. There will always be some idiot posting for "No (insert racial slur here)" but that is not reason enough to legislate against stating you are looking for specific age, race, sex or religious types.

     

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  10.  
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    Bob, May 16th, 2007 @ 12:41pm

    Why is it, that comments from conservaties always contain spelling and usage errors? Just an observation.

    Discrimination in housing is illegal. Get over it!

    In case you are asking, I am a white male, frequently ashamed of some members of my race.

     

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