Craigslist Not Liable For Discriminatory Posts — But Court Tries To Limit Immunity
from the some-good,-some-bad dept
Back in February, a civil rights group sued Craigslist over discriminatory housing posts on their Chicago site. As we noted at the time, this seemed like a clear misunderstanding of how the internet works and internet law — specifically section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says that online service providers should not be held liable for content that its users publish. There’s a very good reason this law is in place. It keeps frivolous lawsuits from targeting the platform provider, rather than whoever actually created the content in question. In other words, it’s like protecting the phone company from being guilty of a crime because someone breaks the law over the phone. It’s purpose is simple: to focus lawsuits on those who actually broke the law, rather than the middleman who simply provides the technology platform to transmit the message.
So, it’s good to see that the district court judge in this case sided with Craigslist, and found the site not liable for the discriminatory posts. The posts clearly do violate the law, but the complaint should have been with the people who posted them, not Craigslist. The EFF, while happy about the final outcome, is still worried about parts of the actual decision that try to explain why it believes section 230 is more limited that Craigslist implied and why earlier precedent-setting cases are wrong in their interpretation. The EFF worries that this opens the door to future cases further limiting the scope and protections of section 230. Unfortunately, Kurt Opsahl at the EFF doesn’t go into much detail about his problems with the court’s explanation — and some of the court’s ruling would seem to expand the protections of section 230 (noting that it probably keeps service providers free of liability even if they filter or edit content, assuming the edits aren’t the problem). The specific problem may be with the suggestion that state laws may put in place limitations for section 230 protections, but it still suggests that such laws would still need to be consistent with the overall purpose of section 230, protecting providers from liability for actions they didn’t perform.