Snapchat Defeats Sex Abuse Victim's Lawsuit Over Recommendations

Siding with Snap, a state court judge in Connecticut has thrown out a lawsuit brought on behalf of a teenage sex abuse victim who alleged that Snapchat's recommendation algorithm put her in contact with two abusers.

In a ruling issued late last week, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis in Waterbury said Snap was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- a 1996 law that immunizes interactive service providers from liability for activity by third parties.

“The court determines that the allegations of this case fall squarely within the ambit of the immunity afforded to 'an interactive computer service' that acts as a 'publisher or speaker' of information provided by another 'information content provider,'” Bellis wrote, quoting from Section 230's language.

The ruling is at odds with a decision issued last month by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff, who said Section 230 didn't protect Snapchat from liability for allegedly connecting teens with drug dealers.



The Connecticut ruling grows out of a lawsuit brought last year by family members of a teen identified only as “C.O.” who alleges she was sexually assaulted in 2019 and 2021 by separate Snapchat users who were recommended to her by the company's “quick add” feature.

The complaint contained numerous claims, including that Snapchat's service is dangerously defective and that the company is negligent. (Snapchat, like other social media platforms, currently faces similar claims in a sprawling class-action lawsuit in federal court in California.)

In September, Snapchat urged Bellis to dismiss the matter at an early stage for numerous reasons, including that other judges have said Section 230 protects social media companies from liability stemming from recommendations, and that the teen's injuries were caused by user-generated content.

“Courts have explicitly held that claims based on Snapchat’s 'QuickAdd' and similar recommendation features are barred by Section 230,” lawyers for Snapchat wrote in September -- which was before Riff in Los Angeles issued a contrary ruling.

Bellis acknowledged Riff's decided in the opinion, but noted that other courts -- including the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Connecticut -- had ruled differently.

In 2019, the 2nd Circuit specifically rejected the theory that Meta Platforms' use of recommendation algorithms stripped the company of the protections of Section 230.

In that matter, family members of people killed by terrorists in Israel sued Facebook for allegedly allowing its platform to be used to organize and recruit new members. The family members argued in their appeal that Facebook's algorithms “helped introduce thousands of terrorists to one another, facilitating the development of global terror networks.”

The 2nd Circuit sided with Meta, writing that websites typically recommend third-party content to users -- if only by prominently featuring it on a homepage, or displaying English-language articles to users who speak English. The use of algorithms -- as opposed to human editors -- to make those recommendations doesn't make Facebook liable for the posts, the judges said in that case.

Bellis said the reasoning in that 2019 decision was “persuasive,” adding “the fact that an interactive computer service allegedly created user recommendation technologies and algorithms that operate to connect users together” doesn't deprive of it Section 230 immunity.

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