JUSTICE: Facebook Can Be Held Liable for Human Trafficking Cases, Court Rules

June 28th, 2021 4:14 PM

Big Tech has hidden behind Section 230 protections for years, but a recent decision from the Texas Supreme Court may shape platforms’ ability to skirt around cases involving human trafficking.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not protect Facebook from fault if it “knowingly or intentionally benefit[ed] from participation in a human-trafficking venture,” which is prohibited under Texas law. The court did not rule that Facebook was liable for the allegations against it, but the ruling could be the next step in finding justice for victims of human trafficking.

The court found that Facebook could not run to Section 230 as a defense in the case: “Holding internet platforms accountable for the words or actions of their users is one thing, and the federal precedent uniformly dictates that section 230 does not allow it. Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking.”

The case revolved around three women who filed separate lawsuits against Facebook. One of the alleged victims was contacted by a man “using Facebook’s messaging system,” and they began to “communicate regularly.” The man allegedly “offered her a modeling job and proposed they meet in person. Shortly after meeting him, Plaintiff was photographed and her pictures posted to the website Backpage.” The man later allegedly began “advertising her for prostitution. As a result, Plaintiff was ‘raped, beaten, and forced into further sex trafficking,’” according to the decision.

Two other individuals alleged that their traffickers used Facebook and Instagram to lure them into trafficking. Another plaintiff claimed that “[h]er traffickers used Instagram to advertise Plaintiff as a prostitute and to arrange ‘dates’ (that is, the rape of [Plaintiff] in exchange for money).” The victim’s mother “reported these activities to Facebook, which never responded,” according to the decision. The third plaintiff was contacted by a man on Instagram. He allegedly corresponded with her as “part of his alleged efforts to ‘groom’ Plaintiff to ensnare her in a sex-trafficking operation,” when she was 14 years old.

In what appeared to be an attempt to fight the allegations, Facebook moved “to dismiss all claims as barred by section 230,” the decision noted. However, the court found that the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which was passed in 2018, “reflects Congress’s judgment” that human trafficking claims “were never barred by section 230 in the first place.”

Facebook is not the only platform facing legal repercussions from its alleged role in facilitating human trafficking. Twitter was sued for allegedly allowing child pornography to circulate on the platform. But, the decision from the Texas Supreme Court could help victims finally get justice. 

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representative and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency and protections for exploited individuals. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.