Because Vulnerable People Need Section 230, The Copia Institute Filed This Amicus Brief At The Eleventh Circuit
It is utterly and completely irrational for people who defend the vulnerable to call for the destruction of Section 230. Section 230 helps protect vulnerable people by making it possible to speak out against those who would hurt them. Weakening the critically important protection it provides online platforms would only weaken these platforms’ ability to provide an outlet for vulnerable people’s critically important expression, and thus in turn weaken them.
Which is why we filed an amicus brief in the case of M.H. v. Omegle. As with most of these cases challenging the application of Section 230, something terrible happened to someone online. In this case, it was the sexual abuse of a minor. But this litigation is not about holding the abuser responsible but instead the online platform that was used – and by plenty of people not abusing each other, of course.
The district court correctly found that Section 230 barred these claims. After all, the abuse in question was content created by a user, not the platform. And Section 230 exists to make sure that only the users who create wrongful content are held responsible for it and not the platforms that were used because there is simply no way for platforms to have to answer for the almost infinite amount of content that its users make that could be wrongful in an almost infinite numbers of ways. If they had to answer for any of it, they would likely have to refuse all of it (or at least plenty of perfectly legal and beneficial, or even necessary, expression).
But the plaintiffs didn’t like the district court’s answer and so they appealed to the Eleventh Circuit. The Copia Institute then filed its amicus brief to explain to the court what is at stake if it reversed the decision to find that Section 230 didn’t bar these claims in order to try to help this very sympathetic plaintiff. The upshot: much more trouble for future sympathetic plaintiffs, who will lose their ability to speak online safely, if not entirely, as platforms go out of business, refuse more user expression, or stop moderating any of it, which would leave their communities cesspools of even more abuse. And we know this dire prediction is true because we’ve already seen it happen where Section 230 has been weakened before or otherwise unavailable. As we’ve seen play out in the wake of FOSTA in particular, Section 230 does critically important work staving off this sort of dire future where vulnerable people lose all ability to safely use online systems to strengthen their position or even just call for help.
Again, it is a very odd thing for advocates of the vulnerable to call for more of. And so we hope the court will take heed. Not only would allowing these claims to go forward violate the policy balance Congress carefully struck when it passed Section 230, and for good reasons that still remain as valid today as they did back then, but it would outright hurt the very same people these advocates would claim to help. To protect the vulnerable, we need to protect Section 230.