Supreme Court Won't Consider Sex-Trafficking Victim's Claims Against Facebook

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a sex-trafficking victim's appeal of a Texas court's decision that dismissed most of her claims against Facebook.

As is typical, the Supreme Court didn't give a reason for its decision.

The victim, who proceeded anonymously, argued to the Supreme Court that she was “forced into sex trafficking through Facebook” at the age of 15, after meeting a trafficker through the social networking service.

The victim initially sued Facebook in state court in Texas for a host of claims, including that it was negligent, its service dangerously defective, and that it violated a state sex-trafficking statute.

The highest court in Texas ruled last year that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunized Facebook from the bulk of her claims. But that court allowed the victim to proceed with allegations that Facebook violated a Texas sex-trafficking law, ruling that those claims fell within a recent exception to Section 230.

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Lawyers for the victim argued that the Texas court interpreted Section 230 too broadly.

The Supreme Court hasn't yet ruled on the extent to which Section 230 protects websites from personal injury claims. But Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday suggested -- for the second time in the last two years -- that that judges across the country have read the law too favorably for tech companies.

“Here, the Texas Supreme Court afforded publisher immunity even though Facebook allegedly 'knows its system facilitates human traffickers in identifying and cultivating victims,' but has nonetheless 'failed to take any reasonable steps to mitigate the use of Facebook by human traffickers' because doing so would cost the company users -- and the advertising revenue those users generate,” Thomas wrote Monday, quoting from the victim's complaint in the lawsuit.

He added that it's “hard to see” why Section 230 should protect Facebook “from liability for its own 'acts and omissions,'” he added, again quoting from the victim's complaint.

Thomas said he agreed with the decision to reject the appeal, but for procedural reasons.

"We should, however, address the proper scope of immunity under Section 230 in an appropriate case," he added. 

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