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  /  News   /  Supreme Court won’t hear tech liability challenge from teen groomed on Snapchat

Supreme Court won’t hear tech liability challenge from teen groomed on Snapchat

The Supreme Court will not consider a challenge to the scope of a federal law immunizing tech companies from liability for their users’ content brought by a teenager who was allegedly groomed by a teacher on Snapchat. 

The anonymous Texas teen said his high school science teacher used the image-based instant messaging app to groom him, induce his drug abuse and then sexually assault him when he was 15 years old. 

The teen sought to hold Snap, Inc. liable for having “negligently designed an environment rife with sexual predators and then lured children in.” His lawyers also claimed Snap “knew or should have known,” given its internal technology, that the teen was being groomed.

His petition, filed with the high court in March, sought to put Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to a new test. The law says internet service providers cannot be held liable as the “publisher” or “speaker” of content on their platforms.

Instead of holding Snap liable as a publisher or speaker, the teen asked the high court to consider whether Section 230 immunizes internet service providers from any lawsuit regarding their own misconduct just because third-party content is also involved. 

“American teenagers’ social media use is nearly universal. Every time a teenager refreshes a feed, he or she could be the target of online abuse. Yet social media companies are not taking reasonable and obvious steps to protect children online, and courts have applied Section 230 to cut off any means to hold them accountable,” the petition reads. 

“This Court’s review is needed now,” it continues. “Further delay means further unaccountability and more tragedy, like the abuse that occurred here.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote in a dissent that there would be “other opportunities” for the matter to be addressed by the high court, though warning that there is “danger in delay.” 

“Social-media platforms have increasingly used §230 as a get-out-of-jail free card,” Thomas wrote. 

The teenager’s lawyers called the scope of the law an issue of “exceptional importance,” suggesting that his case could serve as an ideal vehicle to address the matter. They also argued that Congress has done little to act on Section 230’s broad protections and “almost certainly will not do so now.”

“Even if there were any hope of Congressional action, this Court should not sit on its hands waiting for Congress to do something when, properly interpreted, Section 230 does not bar claims, like Doe’s, which are based on an internet platform’s own misconduct,” they wrote. “Overbroad immunity under Section 230 is a judicially created problem, and this Court’s intervention is the solution.”

Snap meanwhile urged the justices to deny the teen’s petition, calling it a “poor vehicle” for the “referendum” sought on Section 230.

“The petition invites the Court to consider the limits of (Section 230), but the facts of this case, as alleged in petitioner’s complaint, place Snap squarely within the heartland of that provision,” Snap’s lawyers wrote in court filings.