This is a few weeks old, but Michael Scott
points us to the story of how Backpages is asking a court to dismiss
the lawsuit filed against it by a teen who was sold as a prostitute on the site. We covered the lawsuit
when it was first filed, and had a rather frustrating discussion in the comments with people who simply couldn't understand the difference between blaming those actually responsible
and blaming the tools those people used. We've discussed how the attempts to blame tool providers often helps
those who are involved in child trafficking. It attacks the sites that work with
law enforcement and help them identify those actually responsible, and instead drives traffickers to seek out other sites that don't work with law enforcement. In this case, the teen tries to claim that Backpages (owned by Village Voice Media) isn't protected by Section 230 because it "helped develop the ads":
"The website is a highly tuned marketing site with search tools, adult sex focused categories, and directions and features offered regarding how to increase the impact of your ads for a fee," M.A. argues. "Defendants advertise its website to increase page views of the ads; defendants removes spam from its website to increase page views of placed ad," M.A. adds. "All of these acts make defendants the creators and developers of the posted advertisements."
I don't see how any of those things overrides Section 230 safe harbors. It seems like a huge stretch to claim that advertising your service somehow makes you responsible for the content and the uses. Also, the fact that the site removes spam is totally meaningless, as the various Section 230 cases have shown time and time again that removing other content does not remove Section 230 safe harbors (if it did, no one would ever remove anything
). Still, given the highly emotionally charged nature of this case, it wouldn't surprise me if a court ruled the other way, though the end result of that would be quite damaging -- especially to the people who many think this lawsuit is designed to protect.