Recently, I made a post (and a podcast) about how Facebook is allegedly the social media platform that is used most in the recruiting of child trafficking victims. In a similar vein, late last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Facebook can be held liable for the actions of pimps and traffickers who use Facebook to find their victims.
This stems from lawsuits against Facebook from child trafficking victims who say that Facebook should have warned them about the dangers of child trafficking, and that Facebook benefitted from the trafficking of children. The three victims were all groomed by traffickers on Facebook owned platforms, including Instagram. Two of the victims were only 14-years-old, while the third victim was 15.
Facebook argued that under the infamous section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that they are not responsible for the actions of their users. The court disagreed and stated…
“We do not understand Section 230 to ‘create a lawless no-man’s-land on the Internet’ in which states are powerless to impose liability on websites that knowingly or intentionally participate in the evil of online human trafficking.”
“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,” the opinion said. “Holding internet platforms accountable for their own misdeeds is quite another thing. This is particularly the case for human trafficking.”
If you’ll recall, Section 230 was amended when the FOSTA and SESTA acts were signed into law. Specifically, it means that sites are responsible if they knowingly facilitate in sex trafficking.
As much as I feel the Communications Decency Act is horribly outdated, and as much as my heart breaks for these victims, I think the Texas Supreme Court made the wrong decision.
While I am loath to defend Facebook, the bottom line is, they’re not Backpage. Backpage was a classifieds site that was created explicitly with the intent of profiting from sex trafficking, in my opinion. While sex trafficking on Facebook is an unfortunate byproduct of Facebook being so ubiquitous in our lives, I fail to see how they are profiting from it.
Could Facebook be doing more to prevent child trafficking on their platform? Absolutely. Do the victims deserve justice? Most certainly. I’m just not sure that Facebook is the place to find it.