Washington State Court Confused By Section 230, Says Backpage May Be Liable For User Posts

from the because-we-said-so dept

What is it about state courts where they seem much more confused by the law than federal courts? The latest is a horrifically confused ruling out of Washington State's Supreme Court, basically handwaving its way past nearly all caselaw on Section 230 of the CDA. That law makes it clear that online service providers are not liable for actions/content of their users. This was a key purpose behind the law, which Congress passed to make sure that people couldn't file frivolous lawsuits targeting service providers, rather than the actual users who broke the law. It's a good and extremely important law in the development of the internet, having helped stop numerous frivolous lawsuits, but more importantly, for providing strong protections that made it possible for many internet services to exist in the first place. And, yet, every once in a while, a court seems to miss all of this, and today that court is the Washington State Supreme Court, ruling that Backpage.com may be directly liable for the fact that one of its users used the service to engage in sex trafficking with young girls.

Let's start by making one thing clear: the trafficking of these girls is horrific and one hopes that all legal recourse is being used against those who actually were engaged in the trafficking. But targeting Backpage makes no more sense than targeting Ford because one of its cars was used as the getaway vehicle in a bank robbery. And yet... the court rules otherwise. And it doesn't give any good reason at all, other than because it said so. The court doesn't ignore Section 230. It properly notes that Section 230 protects service providers, but not those who develop the content. And then it decides that Backpage may have created rules that "induce sex trafficking," and thus it could be seen as developing the content. Here's the key part of the ruling:
Viewing J.S. 's allegations in the light most favorable to J.S., as we must at this stage, J.S. alleged facts that, if proved true, would show that Backpage did more than simply maintain neutral policies prohibiting or limiting certain content. Those allegations include that (1) "Backpage.com ... has intentionally developed its website to require information that allows and encourages ... illegal trade to occur through its website, including the illegal trafficking of underage girls," (2) "Backpage.com has developed content requirements that it knows will allow pimps and prostitutes to evade law enforcement," (3) "Backpage.com knows that the foregoing content requirements are a fraud and a ruse that is aimed at helping pimps, prostitutes, and Backpage.com evade law enforcement by giving the [false] appearance that Backpage.com does not allow sex trafficking on its website," (4) "the content requirements are nothing more than a method developed by Backpage.com to allow pimps, prostitutes, and Backpage.com to evade law enforcement for illegal sex trafficking, including the trafficking of minors for sex," ( 5) Backpage' s "content requirements are specifically designed to control the nature and context of those advertisements so that pimps can continue to use Backpage.com to traffic in sex, including the trafficking of children, and so Backpage.com can continue to profit from those advertisements," and (6) Backpage has a "substantial role in creating the content and context of the advertisements on its website." ... According to J.S., Backpage' s advertisement posting rules were not simply neutral policies prohibiting or limiting certain content but were instead ~'specifically designed ... so that pimps can continue to use Backpage.com to traffic in sex." ...

Given J. S. 's allegations, it does not appear "'beyond a reasonable doubt that no facts exist that would justify recovery"' in this case, and, therefore, dismissal of J.S.'s claims under CR 12(b)(6) is not appropriate.... It is important to ascertain whether in fact Backpage designed its posting rules to induce sex trafficking to determine whether Backpage is subject to suit under the CDA because "a website helps to develop unlawful content, and thus falls within the exception to section 230, if it contributes materially to the alleged illegality of the conduct." ... Fact-finding on this issue is warranted.
In short, because the plaintiffs claim that -- even though Backpage's terms of service directly state that you are not allowed to use the service for illegal activities such as trafficking or prostitution -- because they believe Backpage really wants that, it means that it's somehow crossed the line and helped to "develop" the content. That's bizarre and legally wrong. I imagine this will reach a federal court which will destroy this decision.

There's a concurring ruling from Justice Charles Wiggins that is even more confused and completely misreads Section 230 and the volumes of caselaw that make it clear that 230 grants full immunity to service providers. Wiggins insists that's not true. Because he's wrong.
I write separately to emphasize that this holding implies that the plaintiffs' claims do not treat Backpage.com as the publisher or speaker of another's information under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230(c). The dissent misreads this statute to provide "immunity" to '"interactive service providers.'" Dissent at 1. This reading is irreconcilable with the actual language of the statute, which does not include the term or any synonym of "immunity." Subsection 230(c)(1) instead provides a narrower protection from liability: the plain language of the statute creates a defense when there is (1) a provider or user of an interactive computer service (2) whom a plaintiff seeks to treat, under a state law cause of action, as a publisher or speaker of information (3) that is provided by another information content provider.

Thus, when the cause of action does not treat an intermediary as a publisher or speaker, subsection 230(c)(1) cannot be read to protect that intermediary from liability. Plaintiffs' claims that Backpage.com created ucontent rules" specifically designed to induce sex trafficking and evade law enforcement do not treat Backpage.com as the publisher or speaker of another's information. Accordingly, I join the majority opinion.
This is just wrong. It's a really twisted reading of Section 230 that no court has made before. Wiggins is trying to argue that they're not blaming Backpage for the sex trafficking, but merely for the rules that induce sex trafficking (even though the company goes way beyond what's legally necessary to insist that no sex trafficking is allowed on the platform). Basically, he's arguing that if people think you mean one thing, but say another, Section 230 safe harbors might no longer apply to you. Because.

There's a strong dissent from Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud pointing out how ridiculous it is that things got this far.
The majority holds that J.S.'s complaint would support a claim that Backpage functions as an "information content provider" because it alleged that Backpage maintains content requirements for advertisements posted on its website that surreptitiously guide pimps on how to post illegal, exploitative ads. But J.S.'s complaint clearly alleges that another content provider, not Backpage, provided the content for the advertisements. J.S. thus seeks to hold Backpage liable as a publisher or speaker of that information. Subsection 230(c)(l) therefore bars J.S.'s claims.
That dissent also trashes Wiggins' attempt to parse a difference between "immunity" and a more limited liability protection:
Given the allegations in this particular case, the difference in terminology is irrelevant. The question is how far the subsection 230( c )(1) protection reaches, and courts interpreting subsection 230(c)(1)'s language uniformly hold that its protection for publishers is "quite robust." They apply an expansive definition of '"interactive computer service provider"' and a rather restrictive definition of "information content provider." Carafano v. Metrosplash.com .... They hold that the law provides immunity if the plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated a duty deriving from the defendant's status or conduct as a publisher or speaker. Barnes v. Yahoo!... As long as a third party "'willingly provides the essential published content, the interactive service provider receives full immunity regardless of the specific editing or selection process."' Corbis Corp. v. Amazon.com.... The inquiry is whether the defendant "function[ed] as an 'information content provider' for the portion of the statement or publication at issue." Carafano...; see also Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com ... (affirming district court's dismissal of complaint where plaintiff failed to show that defendant "was responsible for the creation or development. of the allegedly defamatory content at issue").
The dissent further notes that the majority decision mistakenly takes J.S.'s assertions that Backpage is the developer of content as true, even though it's clearly not the case under the law:
This allegation-that Backpage designed its posting rules to induce sex trafficking-might prove true. Indeed, we presume it is true when evaluating the sufficiency of J. S. 's complaint. But adopting such posting rules still does not make Backpage a "content provider" within the meaning of the CDA, even under the Ninth Circuit case upon which J.S., the majority, and the concurrence place principal reliance....

In fact, courts have consistently rejected the contention that defendants "develop" content by maintaining neutral policies prohibiting or limiting certain content. For example, in Dart v. Craigslist... which the majority cites at 7, the plaintiff claimed that even though Craigslist, an Internet classifieds service, prohibited illegal content on its website, users frequently posted ads promising sex for money.... Consequently, the plaintiff asserted that Craigslist "ma[de] it easier for prostitutes, pimps, and patrons to conduct business." ... A federal court in Illinois dismissed the claims... explaining, "Plaintiffs argument that Craigslist causes or induces illegal content is further undercut by the fact that Craigslist repeatedly warns users not to post such content. While we accept as true for the purposes of this motion plaintiffs allegation that users routinely flout Craigslist's guidelines, it is not because Craigslist has caused them to do so. Or if it has, it is only 'in the sense that no one could post [unlawful content] if craigslist did not offer a forum."' ... see also Chi. Lawyers'... ("Nothing in the service craigslist offers induces anyone to post any particular listing."); Roommates, ... ("To be sure, the website provided neutral tools, which the anonymous dastard used to publish the libel, but the website did absolutely nothing to encourage the posting of defamatory content-indeed, the defamatory posting was contrary to the website's express policies.")....

The facts in Dart are analogous to the facts here. J.S. alleges that pimps-not Backpage-created and uploaded the ads at issue... ("adult pimps ... posted advertisements for the girls") ... ("adult pimps ... create[ d] ... and then uploaded [the] advertisements of S.L. onto . . . Backpage.com"). Nothing in Backpage's policies obligated users to flout Backpage's express content requirements or to post unlawful content. J. S. 's allegations indicate that the pimps chose the content ultimately used in the advertisements.... The actual "information" at issue consisted of the particular wording and photos that the pimps provided....

Thus, holding Backpage liable would punish it for publishing third party content, and the CDA prohibits such liability.
It seems highly likely that Backpage will appeal and will win.

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 1:53pm

    "ruling that Backpage.com may be directly liable" -- So, your position is NO possible facts could make that "may be" an IS?

    Your assertion of caselaw is always useless in evolving areas. Section 230 is not an absolute shield for ALL that's published. No more than any physical setting is: if criminal behavior is obvious, businesses have a positive duty to act as police. Businesses are permitted legal fictions, for so long as act in public interest.


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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 2:39pm

      Re: "ruling that Backpage.com may be directly liable" -- So, your position is NO possible facts could make that "may be" an IS?

      You should try reading Section 230.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 3:36pm

      Re: "ruling that Backpage.com may be directly liable" -- So, your position is NO possible facts could make that "may be" an IS?

      if criminal behavior is obvious, businesses have a positive duty to act as police.

      Do you have a citation for that involving information services?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 5:33am

      Re: "ruling that Backpage.com may be directly liable" -- So, your position is NO possible facts could make that "may be" an IS?

      "if criminal behavior is obvious, businesses have a positive duty to act as police. Businesses are permitted legal fictions, for so long as act in public interest.

      "and of not seeing comments the fanboys have censored?"

      And if trolling behaviour is OBVIOUS, businesses (even Techdirt) have a positive duty to act as police and put an end to the trolling. We don't want Techdirt to fail to act on trolling behaviour now do we. RIGHT.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 2:03pm

    surely the first thing needed is for judges to be trained correctly in what law means what, what punishment can be given to who for doing what. until that happens, a judge should not be allowed to preside over any case!

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 2:28pm

    Sheryl Gordon?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Adam Steinbaugh (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 4:25pm

    Unless SCOTUS takes it (which is... unlikely) or Washington's Supreme Court agrees to rehear it (also unlikely), ain't nowhere left to appeal.

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  • icon
    mattshow (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 4:44pm

    It's worth nothing that this isn't a result on the merits. It's a result on an application to have claims dismissed before trial, something judges are reluctant to do. An I actually agree with the majority on this one (I know, what a dick).

    The dissent states that courts have consistently rejected the contention that defendants "develop" content by maintaining neutral policies prohibiting or limiting certain content.

    But that's not what the plaintiff is alleging. And unlike the craigslist case referenced, they're not alleging that Backpage ignores people who violate their policy. They're alleging that Backpage's policies aren't neutral but were written specifically with the intent of encouraging sex trafficking. And the court is obligated to accept this as true in an application like this, where a defendant is trying to get claims thrown out before a trial and before any evidence has been submitted.

    I don't think Backpage's policies ARE written with that intent, and I have every confidence Backpage will win on the merits, but I don't think the court was wrong to find as they did in this application.

    With that said, I also don't understand what point Wiggins was trying to make with his bit about the use of the word "immunity".

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    • icon
      mattshow (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 4:53pm

      Re:

      Noting. It's worth NOTING.

      One little extra "h" can really change a sentence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 9:52am

      Immunity [was Re: ]

      … the use of the word "immunity".
      Justice Wiggins begins by looking at the plain language of the statute. He asserts that appellant's defense is pinned on (c)(1), but that must be read alongside (c)(2). He excerpts all of 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) and, inter alia, focuses on the exact language used in (c)(2)
      (2) Civil liability
      No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
      (A) . . . .
      (B) . . . .
      (Emphasis added.)

      Now Justice Wiggins says, a little bit earlier in his opinion:
       . . . the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230(c). The dissent misreads this statute to provide "immunity" to '"interactive service providers.'" Dissent at 1. This reading is irreconcilable with the actual language of the statute, which does not include the term or any synonym of "immunity." . . .

      What it looks like he's missing is 47 U.S.C. 230(e)(3)
      (3) . . . . No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.
      (Emphasis added again.)

      Scanning quickly back through the first page of the dissent, it doesn't look like Justice McCloud brings up (e)(3) there, either.

      I'm just finishing up my first reading through the briefs, and I've only really read the opinions about one-and-a-quarter times. I'm not quite sure yet whether it's that the Justices apparently focused on (c) to the exclusion of (e), or whether it's appellant's argument that does that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 10:25am

        Re: Immunity [was Re: ]

        The majority opinion does bring up § 230 (e)(3) on p.5:
        Applicable here, the CDA provides that "[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section." 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3).
        And then on p.6, the majority says:
        Accordingly, the CDA controls whether Backpage is immune from J.S. 's state law claims. The scope of CDA immunity is a matter of first impression for this court.
        So, preliminarily, if Justice Wiggins made an error, it doesn't necessarily seem that it's affected the majority opinion.

        Interestingly, Justice Wiggins begins his concurrence with:
        I fully concur in the majority opinion.
        But that's not how I'm (preliminarily) reading things. He's agreeing with their result, but I don't see how he's agreeing with their holding.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 10:43am

          Re: Re: Immunity [was Re: ]

          [Justice Wiggins is] agreeing with their result, but I don't see how he's agreeing with their holding.
          Hmmmm.... O.K. On a little bit of further thought, I'm perhaps beginning to see Justice Wiggin's point of view.

          Maybe he agrees with the majority that the scope of CDA immunity controls the whether appellee's complaint should be dismissed on a C.R. 12(b)(6) motion. But he then turns around and says that the plain words of § 230 provide no “immunity” whatsoever, so therefore appellant's 12(b)(6) motion was properly denied in the Superior Court.

          But, I'm still not quite sure that's really reconcilable with the rest of the majority opinion.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2015 @ 12:00pm

        Re: Immunity [was Re: ]

        Just for a teensy amount of extra clarity, in case someone reading here doesn't quite follow this…

        Justice Wiggins:
         . .  the actual language of the statute, which does not include the term or any synonym of "immunity." Chi. Lawyers' Comm. for Civil Rights
        under Law, Inc., v. Craigslist, Inc.
        (7th Cir. 2008).
        But § 230(e)(3)
        No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.
        (Emphasis added in another place.)

        When the courts read a statute, the courts attempt to give effect to all of the statute. The courts presumes that Congress does not include superfluous words or phrases.

        It's very clear that (e)(3) does more than insulate from liability. See that word “and” there? It's necessary to give effect to “[n]o cause of action may be brought”, beyond just providing a defense to imposition of liability. The two sides of the conjunction are not merely redundant.

        “Immunity”, especially in the qualified immunity context, is immunity from suit. Just compare “immunity from suit” with “no cause of action may be brought.”

        Now, Justice Wiggins did provide a citation for his reading that § 230(c) contains no term or synonym of “immunity”. But his authority is a case where Judge Easterbrook was applying the CDA in the context of a claim brought under the federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq). Do you see where § 230(e)(3) says “State or local law” ? The federal FHA is not state or local law. In the case Easterbrook faced, (e)(3) didn't apply at all.

        Do you think Justice Wiggins didn't spot this? Maybe he didn't feel like spotting these points.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 5:02pm

    Mental Fails Lead to Bad Responses

    Legal cases like this seem to stem from two fundamental misunderstandings: 1) scale, 2) context.

    Scale
    I think the problem many people have with understanding the need and meaning of Section 230 is that they do not grasp the scale of what is happening.

    When sites like Craigslist and Backpage are described to these judges and LEOs, they envision newspaper classifieds of yore. In that case, a human employee received the ad and gave it at least a cursory look before publishing. In such a case, spotting an illegal or questionable ad was easy, and other humans reviewed and decided to publish or not. The Internet smashes such a concept with sheer volume. There is almost no way for a human to review the tsunami of ads that are placed. Keyword and phrase filtering can help a little, but the unending reach of euphemism, nuance, and inside code will always be far ahead of any attempts at automated systems.

    Judges like these simply cannot believe that there isn't a human somewhere in the bowels of Backpage/Craigslist/etc., that is reading and approving these messages, knowing full well what the content is. It is this failure of understanding that motivates them to try and wrestle the Section 230 to not apply in the case.

    Context
    When dealing with the above mentioned use of euphemism and code words, the problem of context rears it's head.

    When a judge, DA, or LEO is presented with a case of child exploitation, that is their context. Seeing a posting from said exploiter talking about 'fresh product', s/he immediately assumes the meaning of the euphemism, probably correctly. That leads to the accusation that the website should know that 'fresh product' means child prostitutes and act accordingly.

    What they fail to do is step out of their world and into the site provider's perspective. For them, they may have 100,000 messages in the last 18 months that reference 'fresh product', and only 100 of them are talking about child prostitutes. With that in mind, how could they possibly pick out that 1 in 1,000 meanings and act upon it with any certainty? Further, if they were to start scrutinizing and/or blocking references to 'fresh product', the exploiters would just start using another euphemism, and the cycle starts all over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 6:46pm

    Why is it that whenever a story like this comes along it has to start out with a disclaimer that the author is not pro murder/trafficking/puppy kicking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 8:14pm

    Washington Supreme Court Case Briefs

    Washington Courts: Supreme Court - Briefs
    Briefs Displayed in Case Number Order (Reverse Order)
     . . .
    90510-0 - J.S., S.L., and L.C. v. Village Voice Media Holdings, et al.
     . . .
    Don't think I can link directly to the appropriate section of the page. Scroll down or use Ctrl-F. Sorry 'bout that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 9:47pm

    Willful blindness: not a good defense in court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 12:28am

    I feel like none of you know the reality of Washington State court...
    They are a shit hole.
    The judges are ridiculous political activists.
    You need a good amount of luck to survive them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Giuseppe Cerrato (profile), 7 Sep 2015 @ 6:22am

      Re: "I feel like none of you know the reality..."

      You've provided no corroborative nor supportive references or links. (not even anecdotal stories) How is one to consider you comment as contributing to the conversation? Subjectively, I disregard spouted-out opinions as valueless bandwidth and time wasting noise.
      What is the use of your comment past "venting" about some personal unrevealed previous perceived "injury" by the Court? Care to share?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 8 Sep 2015 @ 6:51am

        Re: Re: "I feel like none of you know the reality..."

        Subjectively, I disregard spouted-out opinions as valueless bandwidth and time wasting noise.

        Then why did you take the time to share yours?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 7:11am

    Why not go after the source

    It continues to amaze me that the justice system goes after the site instead of the source. Rather than coming down on Backpage for running a bad ad, why not contact the people that placed the ad and arrest them? It seems like Backpage is actually helping the police by making it easy to find people who advertise bad services.

    But this is the same mentality that EU officials had when they told Google to "forget" articles. Yet the articles are still there! Why not go to the source of the problems?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Sep 2015 @ 10:51pm

      Because they don't care about the source, only themselves

      Because they don't actually care about solving the underlying problem, their entire interest is in looking like they've done something, with the absolute minimum amount of work they can manage.

      It's easy to go after the site, and brushing the problem under the rug takes only a small amount of trouble while providing plenty of PR opportunities they can use for later about how they're 'tough on crime'. Going after the source of the problem though, that takes work, isn't nearly as quick, and doesn't provide nearly as much PR opportunities.

      As a result, in a choice between solving the problem, or brushing it under the rug and claiming to have solved it because it's no longer visible, they will chose the later almost every single time.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 7:28am

    stade courts

    When I was young I practiced in state courts. More then once I heard words to the effect of "I know that's what the statute says but I can't believe the Legisjature intended such a result." State judges are often elected and learn that reflecting the moral bias is valued more than interpteting the law if it leads to a personally inequitable result.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 4 Sep 2015 @ 10:35am

    Interesting, he said.

    I have to say I find this case fascinating, in no small part because it's a clear attempt to create some sort of limit on section 230, at least in an indirect way.

    While there are a number of good legal arguments that lead back to section 230, every one of them is based on backpage being only a service provider who has no control over the content. The reality is that Backpage has a specific series of rules and regulations and continues to support and adult section and adult ads. It's reasonable to assume that Backpage knows the types of services being offered. A cursory glance at their adult section is enough to prove that.

    That backpage has gone out of their way over the years to support these adult ads, and that they make a significant amount of their total income from them perhaps is also a little bit telling.

    I don't think the case will succeed, but it's an interesting swing at the fences. It does perhaps point out that section 230 protects are a bit over broad, and have seemingly expanded to cover all sorts of businesses that might not have been included in the original intent of the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Sep 2015 @ 11:03pm

      Active participation vs Passive participation

      The reality is that Backpage has a specific series of rules and regulations and continues to support and adult section and adult ads. It's reasonable to assume that Backpage knows the types of services being offered. A cursory glance at their adult section is enough to prove that.

      I'm not seeing it myself. Providing a platform, and providing rules for the platform doesn't really rise to the level of being an active participant with regards to determining the content on the platform, versus just allowing it to be posted.

      If they were shown to accept or decline individual posts, checking them before allowing them to be posted, I could see them being liable for the content posted, as they choose what is being posted essentially.

      On the other hand, if they take a passive role, providing the platform, providing the rules for the platform, and only getting involved when informed of someone breaking the rules, I can't see them being realistically liable, as they don't really have any control over the content other than removing it or trying to block certain individuals from posting again.

      It's similar to the difference between a phone book and a search engine(ignoring for the moment the matter of scale). One actively chooses what to allow, while the other passively allows everything. One only lists what they have vetted, allowing them to control what's listed, while the other lists everything, and only controls what isn't listed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 1:52am

        Re: Active participation vs Passive participation

        If you list everything you have no control over what isn't listed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 9:02am

        Re: Active participation vs Passive participation

        If they were shown to accept or decline individual posts, checking them before allowing them to be posted, I could see them being liable for the content posted, as they choose what is being posted essentially.
        Iow, you could see a rule somewhat like that which existed before the CDA? Recall that § 230 was enacted in response to a New York state trial court decison. (“Supreme” courts in New York are trial courts—often called “superior” courts elsewhere.)

        Stratton Oakmont v Prodigy (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1995)
        A finding that PRODIGY is a publisher is the first hurdle for Plaintiffs to overcome in pursuit of their defamation claims, because one who repeats or otherwise republishes a libel is subject to liability as if he had originally published it. In contrast, distributors such as book stores and libraries may be libel for defamatory statements of others only if they knew or had reason to know of the defamatory statement at issue. A distributor, or deliverer of a defamatory material is considered a passive conduit and will not be found liable in the absence of fault. However, a newspaper, for example, is more than a passive receptacle or conduit for news, comment and advertising. The choice material to go into a newspaper and the decisions made as to the content of the paper constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment and with this editorial control comes increased liability. In short, the critical issue to be determined by this Court is whether the foregoing evidence establishes a prima facie case that PRODIGY exercised sufficient editorial control over its computer bulletin boards to render it a publisher with the same responsibilities of a newspaper.
        (Citations omitted.)

        That history is briefly sketched in Zeran v AOL (4th Cir. 1997).

        In short, you could see a distinction between publisher and distributor liability, based on the party's knowledge and editorial control?

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 9:30am

      Re: Interesting, he said.

      … the original intent of the law.
      Congressional policy, of course, is set out in § 230(b). Beyond that, is there any real controversy in the Zeran court's statement that Congress intended to reverse Stratton Oakmont ?
      Another important purpose of § 230 was to encourage service providers to self-regulate the dissemination of offensive material over their services. In this respect, § 230 responded to a New York state court decision, Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Servs. Co. (N.Y.Sup.Ct. May 24, 1995).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re: Interesting, he said.

        [I]s there any real controversy in the Zeran court's statement that Congress intended to reverse Stratton Oakmont ?
        Last year, Eric Goldman blogged about 47 USC 230’s legislative history. He provides us with a link to House Conference Report 104-458 (Jan 31, 1996), which contains on p.194:
        One of the specific purposes of this section is to overrule Stratton-Oakmont v. Prodigy and any other similar decisions which have treated such providers and users as publishers or speakers of content that is not their own because they have restricted access to objectionable material.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2015 @ 10:55am

      Re: Interesting, he said.

      … it's a clear attempt to create some sort of limit on section 230, at least in an indirect way.
      In Washington state, the judicial power is not a legislature. Courts decide the cases brought before them—they do not amend the laws of the United States, no matter how mistaken they may feel the Congress to be.

      In theory.

      Lately, the Washingto state Supreme Court has contempt for the state legislature. Now, I don't believe the justices are quite crazy enough to hold the U.S. Congress in contempt…

      But are you saying that it looks to you like the court isn't just deciding this present case on it's peculiar facts? Are they interpreting the CDA —or rewriting it? What kind of “clear attempt” is it again?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 6 Sep 2015 @ 10:56pm

        Re: Re: Interesting, he said.

        One thing you have to realize is that courts generally don't just blindly apply the law, but they also consider what the law means in context with the case before them. This is particularly relevant when you start to get into questions of free speech, protected speech, and exceptions from liability as contracted in the law.

        It's not unreasonable to consider that 230 exemptive status wasn't created with the current applications in mind. The Wyden-Cox amendment is sadly very unclear in this area, and as a result, many companies who would otherwise be publishers in the physical world are suddenly exempt in the online world. Backpages may be a computer service, but it's also a publishing system akin to a "free ads" weekly inky.

        So the question becomes one of separating out the pure technical service (such as a BBS) from content selected and accepted for publication on a given website, similar to that of printing a newspaper or creating a television show.

        I think that the court went a long way (some would suggest too far) down this road to try to create legal distinction, where few seem to have gone before. The "Clear attempt" I mention is them actually dealing with the law and trying to come up with a ruling that defines the difference between two different acts, service providing and publishing.

        There is plenty of desire by tech companies to shuck any responsibility and claim only to be an innocent provider. However, I feel that as we move forward, more and more cases will be made where the "real world" and "online world" services will be compared, and the courts will conclude that not everything is just an innocent transparent service provider, and rather a publisher, maintainer, and editor of the content that appears online.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2015 @ 2:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: Interesting, he said.

          It's not unreasonable to consider that 230 exemptive status wasn't created with the current applications in mind.
          Certainly, in 1996 Congress neither forsaw nor intended § 230 to anachronistically import Twombly (2007) and Iqbal (2009) into state civil rules of procedure.

          That said, I've noted appellant's contention (pp.6-7) that appellees misjoined defendant Hopson as a sham to defeat federal diversity jurisdiction. A case that a Pierce County Superior Court judge thinks is “right on the line” under Washington's CR 12(b)(6) standard most probably goes the other way under post-“Twiqbal” FRCP 12(b)(6). But, of course, the federal court's remand is not at issue in this Washington decision. One must presume the matter is properly in the Washington state courts.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 11:36am

    Politics

    Washington Courts: The Supreme Court
    Justices

    The nine Supreme Court justices are elected to six-year terms. Each term is staggered to maintain continuity of the court. The only requirement for the office is that the prospective justice be admitted to the practice of law in Washington State. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the Governor until the next general election.
    Justice Charles K. Wiggins
    Charlie Wiggins was elected to the Supreme Court in 2010. . . .

    If Justice Wiggins mis-read § 230 to neglect (e)(3), was that a good-faith mistake? He just flubbed reading beyond (c)? Or did he see that the appellant had perhaps made an omission in their argument, that would allow him in good conscience to spin the decision against “immunity”?

    It's premature to conclude that Justice Wiggins reciprocated what he might potentially have seen as appellant's overall bad faith conduct. Indeed, I'm slightly hesitant to even suggest it publicly. But, based on what I've seen so far, that possibility has crossed my mind. In other casees, in other courts, I've certainly seen outcomes that I've strongly suspected were like that.

    Is it any good for the law, if a state supreme court justice applies “justice” in that rough-handed fashion?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2015 @ 1:16pm

      Re: Politics

      It's premature to conclude that Justice Wiggins reciprocated what he might potentially have seen as appellant's overall bad faith conduct.
      Equally speculative, but since I voiced my suspicions in the one direction, I might as well voice what might possibly be mitigation the other direction (if any mitigation is needed): Justice Wiggins could possibly be exposing —to a very discerning reader— the true grounds upon which the majority opinion was decided.

      He would then essentially be saying that if appellant is going out in the world, acting in bad faith, then the court can indeed also act in bad faith. But at least he, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, is not going to obscure what the court is doing behind some opinion which may mislead the well-educated readership of the decision.

      If that, though, is the case, does it matter that the public, with varying levels of reading sophistication, may be terribly confused?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 3:07pm

    Does anyone know if this decision has been (or even can be) appealed to a federal court?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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