Can Snapchat be sued for ‘promoting reckless driving? Court says yes, potentially puncturing hole in Section 230
The US Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has reversed an earlier decision in support of Snapchat, the ‘disappearing’ message microblogging platform. The app offers a “speed filter” it claims led to users’ reckless driving and death.
The appeals court has decided the platform – which ‘disappears’ users’ posts shortly after they upload them – can indeed be sued over its speed filter.
Even if users are merely posting their own high-speed driving clips while using the platform, the company can still be held liable, as Snapchat’s own speed app is negligently designed to encourage reckless behavior, according to the parents of two boys who died doing over 120 miles per hour on the app.
Snap argued it was shielded from responsibility under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and was simply providing a platform for users to post content.Also on rt.com Brace yourself, America! Biden reportedly considering increasing domestic spying powers
However, rather than approach the case under Section 230 – a piece of legislation that has come under major scrutiny in recent years as social networks have taken to interfering with elections, banned politicians from their networks, and otherwise thrown into question the very nature of these platforms – the plaintiffs took a different route on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the families of Hunter Morby and Landen Brown, the two boys who died speeding on Snap’s app, skirted the Section 230 problem that typically bars the government from holding platforms responsible for content generated by their users online.
The attorneys argued, “Manufacturers have a specific duty to refrain from designing a product that poses an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to consumers,” going on to examine Snap less as a publication platform than a manufacturer with a defective product – one that could and has killed its users.
Rather than accusing Snap of publishing or airing any damaging or hurtful user-generated content – an approach that has largely proven a legislative brick wall, thanks to Section 230 – the families of the deceased are insisting it is the design of Snapchat itself which is at fault.
The government may have considered Section 230 impassible, and perhaps be disinclined to let the public see how they tamper with the platform’s content management (and they do tamper), but a social media app that allegedly harms children could be a different matter entirely.
The parents pointed to their children’s erroneous belief that kids driving using Snapchat’s speed app would get a special “achievement” for topping 100mph, which is close to double the speed limit in many US states. However, Snap has repeatedly denied such an ‘achievement’ exists.
The case has since been reopened under the Ninth Circuit, but with the families’ lawyers arguing the two crash victims’ reckless speeding was in fact encouraged and motivated by Snapchat’s filter, which had been “indisputably designed” in a casually risky manner.
“In short, Snap Inc. was sued for the predictable consequences of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encouraged dangerous behavior,” the appeals court wrote in its decision to overturn the earlier ruling.
The decision could be a major breakthrough, given previous courts’ reluctance to interfere with Section 230. But some lawyers have argued that the lawsuit is merely an attempt to hold Snap responsible for users’ reckless behavior. The app even includes a warning about driving too fast – one which was ignored.
However, this is not the first case of Snap being sued for encouraging reckless driving. After getting into a wreck with a user deploying the filter, an Uber driver sued Snap in 2016. The user was allegedly trying to achieve that elusive 100mph goal, and while a Georgia court initially sided with the Uber driver, that case was later reversed on appeal, with a court deciding Snap did not promote speeding.
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