Your Kids’ Facebook Activities Can Subject You to Liability (But See 47 U.S.C. § 230?)

October 16, 2014

As a general rule, parents are not liable for their childrens’ actions simply by virtue of the fact that they are the kid’s parents. (I wish it were different, as that might put a leash on our idiocracy devolution, but sigh).

That all aside, the Georgia Court of Appeals just held that parents can be liable for their children’s activities online, most specifically on Facebook. See Boston v. Athearn (Ga. Ct. App. 2014).

The facts are pretty standard fare. Some kids decided to bully another kid. They set up a fake Facebook account dedicated to that mission. The Facebook page was apparently racist and defamatory. (Op. at 3).

During the 11 months the unauthorized profile and page could be viewed, the Athearns [the Parents] made no attempt to view the unauthorized page, and they took no action to determine the content of the false, profane, and ethnically offensive information that Dustin [their son] was charged with electronically distributing. They did not attempt to learn to whom Dustin had distributed the false and offensive information or whether the distribution was ongoing. They did not tell Dustin to delete the page. Furthermore, they made no attempt to determine whether the false and offensive information Dustin was charged with distributing could be corrected, deleted, or retracted. (Op. at 5).

Georgia follows the general rule that parents are not automatically liable for the sins of their children. But, they “may be held directly liable, however, for their own negligence in failing to supervise or control their child with regard to conduct which poses an unreasonable risk of harming others. (Op. at 6-7).

The Georgia court found that the child used a computer and access to an Internet account “improperly, in a way likely to cause harm, and with malicious intent.” (Op. at 11). The parents argued that they could not have anticipated the child’s actions until after the child’s school brought it to their attention. But, the Georgia court brushed this off, stating “The Ahearns’ argument does not take into account that, as Dustin’s parents, they continued to be responsible for supervising Dustin’s use of the computer and Internet after learning that he had created the unauthorized Facebook profile.” (Op. at 11).

Logically, this all makes sense. Parents have a duty to control their kid. They breach the duty. The breach causes harm. They pay. Classic negligence theory.

But, it seems that nobody raised the issue of 47 U.S.C. § 230, which provides immunity from such claims.(1)

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) provides, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). The CDA goes on, “No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” Id. § 230(e)(3).

This decision holds the parents accountable as it would a publisher or speaker of the information in question, thus the claim should be barred by 47 U.S.C. § 230.

CDA immunity requires that “(1) the defendant be a provider or user of an interactive computer service; (2) the cause of action treat the defendant as a publisher or speaker of information; and (3) the information at issue be provided by another information content provider.” Gentry v. eBay, Inc., 99 Cal. App. 4th 816, 830 (2002)

This claim attempts to treat the parents as a liable participants in the tortious conduct. The CDA provides immunity when a plaintiff seeks to hold a defendant liable for tortious conduct based on the fact that the defendant provided the Internet instrumentalities used to commit the tort. See, e.g., Almeida v. Amazon, 456 F.3d 327 (11th Cir. 2006).

In Delfino v. Agilent Techns. Inc., 145 Cal. App. 4th 790, 806 (2006), the California court of appeals found that when an employee used the employer’s computer network to send threatening messages, the employer was not liable. In that case, the court held that although the defendant-employer merely acted as the provider of the computer system, the plaintiff’s tort claims in essence sought to hold the employer liable for the publication of the threatening messages. Id. Therefore, the employer was immune under § 230.

The Georgia Court of Appeals had its first § 230 case this summer. Internet Brands, Inc. v. Jape, 328 Ga. App. 272 (Ga. Ct. App.2014). “The CDA “precludes plaintiffs from holding interactive computer service providers liable for the publication of information created and developed by others.” Id. at 274-75. And, in that case, it recognized (like all other courts before it) that § 230 protection is broad. “[C]ourts have consistently … held that § 230 provides a ‘robust’ immunity, and that all doubts must be resolved in favor of immunity.” Id. at 276 (citations and quote marks omitted).

In this case, the plaintiff does not bring a direct claim of defamation against the parents for creating the content. But, the claims appear to have the same effect as treating them as the publisher of the information based solely upon their role as the provider of the account and hardware for the tortious communications. It is without dispute that the content was provided by another person, namely the son. The son, therefore, is the liable party – not the parents – and under the CDA, any claim to the contrary appears to be barred.

UPDATE: If CDA immunity applied, it would certainly be the first time it applied in precisely this kind of scenario. But see footnote 1, below.

________________________________
(1) I oughta know. A few years back, I raised the theory that if you provide an open wifi connection, you should be liable for torts committed over that open wifi. Since I raised it in a copyright context, the courts I raised it before dismissed it on a pre-emption claim. But, other courts have since ruled that even if that theory was not pre-empted, it would be barred by Section 230. See AF Holdings, LLC v. Doe, 104 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1182, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125306, 2012 WL 3835102 (N.D. Cal.Sept. 4, 2012); AF Hodlings, LLC v. Doe, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143484, 2012 WL 4747170 (N.D. Cal.Oct. 3, 2012).


Revenge Porn Scumbags Spanked With $385,000 Judgment

March 18, 2014
Kevin Bollaert

Kevin Bollaert

Founders of the revenge porn site You Got Posted, Eric Chanson and Kevin Bollaert, have been ordered to pay an Ohio woman $385,000, including $75,000 in punitive damages, for distributing child pornography – photos of her when she was underage. (judgment) The plaintiff, represented by Randazza Legal Group, sued You Got Posted’s operators after finding several sexually explicit images of herself as a minor on the site. The $385,000 judgment is the end of her case against two of You Got Posted’s operators.

The woman sued as “Jane Doe,” and the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio awarded her a judgment of $385,000 against Kevin Bollaert and Eric Chanson on March 18, 2014. The Court awarded the plaintiff $150,000 each on two child pornography claims, and $10,000 on her right of publicity claim. Additionally, the Court awarded the plaintiff $75,000 in punitive damages based on Bollaert and Chanson’s conduct. In total, the Court awarded $385,000 against Kevin Bollaert and Eric Chanson. Additionally, the Court prohibited Kevin Bollaert and Eric Chanson from ever again publishing her images.

In May of 2013, the plaintiff sued Kevin Bollaert Eric Chanson, and other defendants for publishing sexually explicit images of her on the website You Got Posted. In related legal action, on December 10, 2013, the California Attorney General’s Office indicted and arrested Bollaert on counts of conspiracy, identity theft, and extortion in connection with You Got Posted. (Arrest Warrant Here)

The judgment comes on a default. But, it was not an ordinary default. The Chanson defendants retained the services of a law firm in India to defend them — yes, a law firm that doesn’t even have a single license required for this litigation, much less the court where this matter was pending. They tried to pretend that they were actually pro se, while using these unlicensed “attorneys” as their counsel. When we figured that out, we moved to strike all of their pleadings. (Motion here). The court granted the motion. (order) Eric Chanson didn’t bother trying again and after a prove-up hearing he and his compatriot got their just desserts.

The message this $385,000 judgment sends to people who run revenge porn sites is unambiguous. These sites irreparably harm their victims, and often without any criminal action against them. In this case, a civil suit allowed our client to obtain justice against the people who exploited her. Marc J. Randazza of the Randazza Legal Group and Prominent First Amendment Bad Ass, H. Louis Sirkin handled the case on behalf of Jane Doe.


No…. Section 230 does not prohibit you from being responsible

March 15, 2014

There are three kinds of people who talk about Section 230: 1) Those who know the law and speak the truth, 2) Those who know the law, but lie, 3) Those who don’t know the law, and still spew stupidity.

I’m not going to try and separate the 2s from the 3s. I just want to spread the truth. But, once armed with the truth, would you dear readers please yell BULLSHIT at the 2s and 3s when you hear them speak?

A really brief overview: 47 USC Section 230 is the federal statute that provides legal immunity to online service providers for lawsuits based on content provided by third parties. Because of this law, if someone posts a defamatory comment on this blog, I am not liable for that content. Period. There are some very very narrow exceptions, which don’t warrant discussion for the purposes of this post — because we aren’t going to delve into nuance here.

I want to clear up one bit of bullshit that seems to continue to walk the earth, sort of like a legal bullshit zombie. The bullshit is the notion that if I delete ANY comments on this blog, then I lose my Section 230 immunity.

This comes to mind because this Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Attorney At Blog conference. During that conference, a very nice lady “informed” the audience that her blog would delete problematic comments, but they couldn’t, lest they lose Section 230’s protection.

I felt like a dick having to correct her. But, I can’t let a room full of people leave dumber than they came in. If you come to a place for CLE credit, the least you should do is learn something true, right? Shockingly, she defended her position by saying that it was based on the advice of her attorney. I advised her to fire that attorney immediately.

Read the statutory language below:

(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(2) Civil liability
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or

(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1) (emphasis added)

I do delete comments from time to time. If I notice them and they are “excessively violent” or “harassing” or “otherwise objectionable,” I delete them. Why? First, its my blog, so my fucking rules. You have a right to express yourself, but not necessarily here. Second, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I can delete one comment and leave 100 filthy, objectionable, harassing, defamatory, nasty, and brutish comments and still not be liable.

Section 230 has been a wonderful thing. It has allowed the Internet to grow, and allowed services like Facebook, Craigslist, Fling.com, Pissedconsumer.com, and any number of other fun websites to exist. It allows me to have a comments section on each post, without worrying about whether I’ll be liable for something posted there. It does foster free speech online. So hooray Section 230.

Despite the fact that Section 230 gives me the right to be arrogant when it comes to the comments on my blog, it does not prohibit me from being responsible. I know very well that Section 230 is not there because of any Constitutional mandate. It is an immunity from liability bestowed upon us by Congress — and what Congress gave us, Congress can take away. One day, I expect that Congress will take away Section 230 (at least in part).

Why?

Because we can’t have nice things… One day, it is going to be the wrong Senator’s daughter who gets a rape threat or defamed on a comment somewhere, and you’re going to see some rollback to the freedom that Section 230 has given us. And that will be too bad, because it didn’t need to be that way.

You see, lots of bloggers and tech companies realize that Section 230 does allow them to have their own rules – and they act responsibly in the face of that freedom. If someone posts a comment on my blog saying that they are going to rip a woman’s eyes out and fuck the eye sockets (a threat lobbed at the nice lady who was misinformed about Section 230) then by the power of The Dude, I will delete that comment (and ban the commenter forever)MJR Dudeist Minster

Unfortunately, there are Section 230 protected websites who decide that they will simply go all the way to the edge of what Section 230 protects today. I at least respect them (on some level) when their rationale is “fuck you, Section 230 says I can, so everyone can suck it.” But, there are the liars and dipshits who say “If I delete any posts, I lose my Section 230 protection.”

If you are at a fifth grade reading level or better, the plain language of the statue should make it clear to you that this just isn’t true.

If you’re a Section 230 protected website operator and your lawyer has ever told you that you can’t act responsibly, lest you lose protection, then pick up your phone and dial his number (or her number, whatever). I presume you’ll get his voicemail. Leave this message “Hey, you’re either really stupid, or fucking dishonest. In either event, you’re fired, fucktard.”

Thank you. You are now less stupid.


Nevada has a New Anti-SLAPP Law

June 24, 2013

Post updated here.


Sunshine is the best disinfectant – the Steubenville Rape Case

December 20, 2012

The mainstream media has noticed that something is amiss in Steubenville, Ohio. (Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City).

And Jezebel gives credit where it is due — to a blogger who refused to let the story die. (We Wouldn’t Know About the Steubenville Rape Case If It Wasn’t for the Blogger Who ‘Complicated’ Things).

I won’t comment beyond my earlier post on the case, because I have been brought in to help defend the blogger.


Steubenville, Ohio: Gang Rape + SLAPP Suit

December 2, 2012

SLAPP suits are never pretty.

This one is particularly troubling.

A couple of members of the Steubenville, Ohio Big Red football team were accused of kidnapping and raping a 16 year old girl at a party. (source, source)

A blogger, Alexandria Goddard, wrote about the incident. Naturally, she was outraged. She wrote another post, in which she also provided a copy of a photo, allegedly taken (or merely transmitted) by a Cody Saltsman.

codysaltsman photo

The photo and related tweets are available here. Tweets like “whore status” and “I have no sympathy for whores.”

Saltsman has not been charged with a crime. He denies, under oath, being at the party at all.

Nevetheless, the comments sections in Goddard’s blog lit up with negative opinions of the young man.

So his parents sued for defamation. (source)

Cody Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed the lawsuit through their attorney, Shawn Blake, seeking an injunction to force Alexandria Goddard of Columbus, who runs the blog site prinniefied.com, to remove alleged false and defamatory statements from the blog site. The Saltsmans also are seeking monetary damages in excess of $25,000. (source)

The defamation suit names Goddard and 15 defendants, known only by their screen names and IP addresses. (UPDATE: Amended complaint here)

On Friday, the judge gave the plaintiffs the right to issue subpoenas to ascertain the identities of the 15 pseudonymous defendants. (source)

Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson Thursday said attorney Shawn Blake can issue the subpoenas but the people whom Blake is trying to identify have the right to file their own motion to quash the subpoena.

The judge said Goddard, if she knows the identity of the annonymous people, should notify those people of the pending discovery and tell them they have 14 days to file a motion to stop the subpoena and the information being released that will make their identity known. The judge said the Internet providers who will be subpoenaed also should notify their customers of the pending discovery. (source)

For the most part, the defamation claims are off the mark. In the initial complaint, Goddard had a clean Section 230 defense. Since then, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which at least tries to plead around Section 230.

As far as the comments go, the majority of them appear to be non-actionable on their face. Review the amended complaint. Some of them, without knowing all the facts, might be capable of a defamatory meaning. For example, some of them accuse the kid of being the “ringleader.” That might be an issue, depending on the actual provable facts. On the other hand, some of them are downright silly to include in a defamation complaint.

Regardless, it seems like Saltsman will have some difficulty in this case (after all, the photo above seems to confirm some of the negative comments). I suppose he may have merely come into possession of the photo from someone who was there, rather than taking it himself, but it seems like a fair comment to presume he was there if he was tweeting and distributing the photo. I don’t see how he can deny that he was joking about it with his buddies on Twitter (unless all of the tweets and photos are part of an elaborate fabrication). I’m really not sure what else you could say about someone to damage their reputation further after you have those facts established.

Sickcrimes blog sums up the allegations for us here:

A girl was raped by at least two football players in Steubenville, Ohio and the act was photographed and/or filmed by several other teens at the scene of the crime. Did they try and stop the two fucknuts? Hell, no. Did they report the heinous act? What do you think? What they DID do was post about it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I am really not sure what you can say about a kid that would be more damning than that. Yes, some of the statements might be false statements of fact. But, even if they are, Mr. Saltsman comes to the case with a reputation already colored by his actions after-the-fact. Is it worse to say he was the “mastermind” of the rape? Yes. Is it worse to say that he “orchestrated” the rape? Yes. But, it is sort of like The Dude’s car in The Big Lebowski. When he finds it in the impound lot, it has been crashed, and a vagrant used it as a toilet. Is it really all that much worse when it finally gets blown up?

If the photo above is authentic, and not a complete fabrication, then this guy might have bigger problems than whether someone said something mean about him on the Internet. He certainly has some pretty foolish people advising him. Had he never filed this lawsuit, he would have gone off to college, everyone would have forgotten about it, and that would have been the end of it.

Now, at the very least, he breathed all kinds of new life into the story. At worst, the defendants might have to prove the truth of the matters asserted in their statements. If they can’t do so, and lets just say (for the sake of argument) that Saltsman wins the defamation suit, then what? He’s still the guy who kept photographic momentos of a gang rape and who joked about it on Twitter.


Anonymous Comes for Hunter Moore – Moore’s Man Card Revoked

December 1, 2012

Anonymous has now targeted Hunter Moore.

In a release published today, Anon writes:

Greetings citizens of the world, We are Anonymous.

This is a call to all Anonymous worldwide, you have a chance to make a real difference in the lives of hundreds of bullied teenagers and protect them from real harm such as rape or stalking.

Hunter Moore, Founder of previous revenge pornography site http://www.isanyoneup.com is coming back stronger than ever from the shutdown of his previous website. This capitalist makes money off of the misery of others.

People submit pictures of others naked to his website and he posted their social networking profiles along with the pictures.

This time he is taking it a step further and plans to list physical addresses next to the victims pictures along with a map to their house, self proclaiming that he has singlehandedly enabled the stalking of hundreds.

His servers are up. he already has domains he is secretly testing and will go public soon. He hides behind a loophole of section 230 of the United States online decency act which states he cannot be held legally accountable for third party submitted content.

This is a call to all of anonymous. We Will hold hunter moore accountable for his actions, we will protect anyone who is victimized by abuse of our internet, we will prevent the stalking, rape, and possible murders as byproduct of his sites.

Operation Anti-Bully. Operation Hunt Hunter engaged. We are Anonymous, we are Legion, we do not Forgive, we do not Forget, Hunter Moore, EXPECT US. (source)

I applaud them for it. I do have one issue with the missive — I don’t think that Moore is as protected by Section 230 as he likes to believe.

But, lets set the legal issues aside for this post: Moore is a douchebag, and deserves everything that Anonymous may throw at him. Here’s why:

Once upon a time, girls weren’t all paranoid about being raped, having shit slipped in their drink, or being stalked. Then, douchebags discovered rohypnol, stalking, etc., which ushered in a new era of “Why has this asshole just showed up at my table with a drink in his hand? Does he think I’m an idiot?”

Now, thanks to these clowns, you need to convince the girl that she should have sex with you AND that you’re not going to rape her or cut her into little pieces. Girls who were once approachable are scared to death to even have a conversation with you in a bar. All because of douchebags who need to circumvent rejection with drugs. And stalking. Lots and lots of stalking.

The douchebag’s MO is to shit out a cloud of fear. That cloud of fear supports an ecosystem that only benefits two kinds of people — other douchebags and second-wave feminists who absolutely love women in fear, because it makes their bullshit message resonate with just enough terrified women to keep a few of them signing up for their classes. Never forget the best way to control behavior is through FEAR. Just like the TSA, fear creates a justification for existence. There is the implied message of “If you challenge me, I’ll fucking spank you, so you better choose wisely.” But, if you take away fear, the assholes evaporate.

Involuntary Porn sites (like those run by Hunter Moore, Eric Chanson, Craig Brittain, and Chance Trahan) are the online equivalent of the asshole who goes to a bar with roofies in his pocket, or who stalks a girl who won’t give him the time of day. They punish all women through fear because they got rejected by their high school prom date or some chick in a bar or…whatever. They get off on the smell of fear and the resultant power over a woman and this is the drug that gives them the warm tinglys.

Imagine if no women had to live in fear of a shithead ex-boyfriend or these dickless fucks. Forget the morality of what they do, if you want, and think about from a purely utilitarian / economic perspective. Without these nimrods, a woman would always feel comfortable letting you take naked pictures of her. Women would feel comfortable sending you those pics as a “hey good morning” present. More naked pictures of girls means a better world for everyone, in my humble opinion.

Real men don’t get off on scaring women. Real men get off on trying to take that fear away.

Not because we are nice, or chivalrous. OK, some of us are, but more importantly, it’s because we want more naked pics and Hunter More and Craig Brittain are fucking with that.

So fuck you, Hunter Moore. Fuck you, Eric Chanson. Fuck you, Chance Trahan. And Fuck you, Craig Brittain.

Any man who gets off on putting women in fear loses his man card.

Good hunting, Anonymous.


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