• February 23, 2024

Snapchat Can Be Sued For Role In Fatal Car Crash, Court Rules : NPR

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Snapchat should be held legally responsible if a young man uses the app’s “speed filter” feature before a fatal crash. Richard Drew / AP hide caption

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Richard Drew / AP

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Snapchat should be held legally responsible if a young man uses the app’s “speed filter” feature before a fatal crash.

Richard Drew / AP

Three young men got into a car in Walworth County, Wisc. in May 2017. They wanted to drive down a long road lined with grain fields at high speed – and share their escapade on social media.

When the 17-year-old accelerated to 123 mph behind the wheel, one of the passengers opened Snapchat.

His parents say their son wanted to capture the experience with an app feature – the controversial “speed filter” – that documents real-life speed, hoping for engagement and attention from followers in the messaging app.

It was one of the last things the trio did before the vehicle pulled off the road and hit a tree, killing everyone.

Was Snapchat partly to blame? The boys’ parents believe it. And in a surprising decision on Tuesday, a federal appeals court ordered that parents should have the right to sue Snap.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US 9th Court of Appeals has sparked intense debate among lawyers about the future of a decade-old law that has protected tech companies from civil suits.

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The young’ Parents sued Snap, Inc., the maker of Snapchat, after the tragedy. They alleged that through its filter, the company “knowingly created a dangerous game” and had some responsibility.

The district court responded how courts normally act when a technology platform is sued in a civil lawsuit: by dismiss the case. The judge cited the extensive immunity social media companies enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The law gives tech companies legal immunity from defamation and other civil suits for what people post on websites, no matter how harmful it may be.

But the appeals court is reversal paves a way around almighty law, saying it doesn’t apply because in this case it’s not about what someone posted on Snapchat, it’s about the design of the app itself.

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Parents claim that Snapchat’s speed filter tricked young people into driving at amazing speeds. And the federal court seems to be saying that Snap should be treated like any other company that makes a product that can cause injury or harm to consumers.

“Snap has indisputably developed the Snapchat reward system and speed filter and made those aspects of Snapchat available to users over the Internet,” wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw for the court. “This type of claim is based on the premise that manufacturers are required to exercise due care in supplying products that do not pose an undue risk of injury or harm to the public.”

Wardlaw went on to say that “CDA immunity” was “not available in this case” with reference to section 230.

Carrie Goldberg, a victim rights attorney specializing in online abuse, brought one similar product liability case against the dating app Grindr, but a federal appeal, the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals, declined on Section 230 grounds.

If another federal appeals court took the reverse route, more cases could be opened to challenge tech companies for faulty platform designs, which could result in foreseeable damage, she said.

“It is a triumphant day to see that an Internet company can be held responsible for products that are designed incorrectly,” Goldberg said in an interview. “The biggest hurdle in personal injury law is facing a jury, and it could lead to this situation for billions of dollars worth of tech companies.”

However, legal experts studying online language were more skeptical, saying it could spark more lawsuits attempting to weaken Section 230, but the chances of success are still slim.

“It invites further attempts to test how tight the ninth circuit finds Section 230, but it could be,” said Jeff Kosseff, law professor at the US Naval Academy and author of a book on Section 230. “We know in In In this case, the court found that 230 was incorrect, and I’m sure there are plaintiffs’ attorneys who are thinking, “Well, how about these other types of product defects?”

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Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor who also studies technology law, pointed to A similar case against Snap that was fought in Georgia state courts.

In that case, an appeals court found that Snap could be sued for the damage caused by the speed filter.

When a court re-examined the case, it found that Snap cannot be held liable for someone who misuses a product. (The messaging app applies a “DO NOT SNAP AND DRIVE” warning to the filter.)

A Snap spokeswoman declined to comment.

Increase the likelihood of a Supreme Court judgment

The parent’s complaint now returns to the lower court. If things go the same as the Georgia case, Snapchat will evade any legal responsibility. But if the court agrees to hold Snap accountable, it could matter, Goldman said.

“We are currently unsure of the implications of that opinion,” he said.

The Ninth Circle has made many statements that strongly support the maintenance of comprehensive immunity for tech companies, he said, saying that now that there is a back-and-forth in section 230, the legal landscape is complicated.

“You just don’t agree with yourself,” he said. As a result, there is a lot of whiplash in Ninth Circle jurisdiction. “

And he said that in the few cases where Section 230 was found not to provide legal protection from civil action, the lower courts ultimately sided with the tech companies.

“I don’t think that opinion will actually open Pandora’s box which says,” You can sue a website at any rate for the way it is, “Goldman said.

The reason, Goldman says, is that the Ninth Circuit essentially decided that Snap wasn’t as relevant as a publisher as claiming that the messaging app motivated malicious activity.

Still, someone would most likely only use Snapchat’s speed filter when they wanted to get their post published.

This is important because, under Section 230, Snapchat cannot be held responsible (or treated as a “publisher or speaker”) for what users post on platforms.

“The Ninth Circuit goes a really fine line about the distinction between things that people do to generate content and the fact that the content only really matters because it gets published,” said Goldman.

For Kosseff, separating the ninth circuit from the second circuit as a possible workaround for the accountability of tech companies could increase the likelihood that the US Supreme Court will weigh up at least one judiciary in the court, Clarence Thomas. has shown a willingness to do.

“This increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear a Section 230 case,” said Kosseff. “We have growing differences in the way courts handle these kinds of challenges.”

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