|Sun Dec 25 2016 22:08:51|
Are Platforms Responsible for User Behavior?
By: Ina Steiner
If someone posts illegal goods or services on a platform like eBay or Amazon, are those marketplaces responsible? And are the executives of those companies responsible to the point where they can be prosecuted over the actions their users take?
California Attorney General Kamala Harris (pictured
) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had executives from online classifieds site Backpage arrested in October over ads for escort services posted by users. Ads allegedly appeared on Backpage offering sex for money using coded language, according to the AG's press release
announcing the arrests.
called the charges against the executives bogus. "Not only was Backpage protected by CDA 230, but the actual investigation into Backpage undercut the case they were bringing, because it showed a willingness by Backpage to delete prostitution ads when brought to their attention by law enforcement, and to block those users from reposting."
The LA Times
describes in more detail the allegations levied against the Backpage.com executives, and it explained why the judge threw out the first case: "Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael G. Bowman ruled that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects websites such as Backpage.com from lawsuits when they publish speech posted by other people. He said the law "struck a balance in favor of free speech" in keeping Internet service providers protected from liability."
The Techdirt article is an interesting read - it says the California AG is now going after Backpages for money laundering, calling the targeting of the classified site a "frightening abuse of power."
The article makes a passing reference to the fact Congress could change the law. If Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was eliminated or modified so that it no longer protected platforms and publishers from postings by users, the Internet would become a very different place. It would impact not only ecommerce and publishing, but sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as well.
Imagine if eBay CEO Devin Wenig and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos were liable for every item and service listed on their sites, not to mention executives such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg?